Is Agriculture a Monoculture?

Is agriculture a monoculture?  First of all lets look at the definition of monoculture.  From the Merriam-Webster dictionary a monoculture is defined as 1) the cultivation or growth of a single crop or organism especially on agricultural or forest land; 2) a crop or a single kind of organism grown on land in a monoculture; 3) a culture dominated by a single element: a prevailing culture marked by homogeneity.  The definition pretty much answers the question, doesn’t it?  We certainly grow more than one crop here in the United States, and we certainly raise more than one species of livestock, and it has always been that way.  In fact, I would guess that more species of crops are grown today than there were in, say, the early 1900’s.  In fact, soybeans weren’t widely grown in the midwest prior to  1879, when a few farmers grew them as forage for livestock.

I imagine most people expect that the crop that is grown on the majority of acres in the United States would be corn.  In 1926, the first year the National Agricultural Statistics Service had statistics for corn acreage, the US planted 99,660,000 acres of corn.  In 2010, the US planted 88,192,000 acres of corn.  Total acreage of all principal field crops planted in 2010 was 316,696,000 acres.  So, as a percentage of total acreage planted, corn was planted on just 27% of planted acres.  Unfortunately, NASS did not have statistics for total acreage planted to principal field crops until 1993.  The number of acres planted to corn as a percentage of the total acres planted to principal field crops ranged from a low of 19% in 1993 to a high of 28% in 2007.  Hardly seems like a monoculture to me, and I don’t believe it will become a monoculture.

Truth is, most farmers and ranchers are averse to risk, they don’t like to put all of their eggs in one basket, and one way  to avoid risk is to be diverse in what they produce.  Just about everyone I know that farms raises at least 2 different crops.  Unfortunately, what our markets for products are for a given geography dictate what we raise.  Personally, I would love to be more diverse in what I raise than I am, because it would allow me to spread out my workload.  However, if I want to stay in business and continue to support my family, I can’t raise products that I have no market for and would not be paid to raise.

I understand the importance of continued biodiversity, and I understand that people are concerned about the possibility of losing biodiversity as the germplasm, or seed stock, in the world comes under ownership of fewer and fewer people.  I do believe, however, that the people who do own the germplasm understand the importance of biodiversity as well, and the fact is, I don’t believe we will ever get to a point where agriculture becomes a monoculture.

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One Response to Is Agriculture a Monoculture?

  1. I get a little upset when I see people saying our monoculture practices are destroying the environment and agriculture. If they think the average Midwestern grain farm rotating corn, soybeans, and wheat is a monoculture, then they’ve got some homework to do. I don’t even need the definition to know that, the “mono” part will do just fine!

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