Monoculture is the act of growing a single type of crop at a farm. Monoculture became popular after world war 2. This method of farming is often done over large tracts of land and is usually mechanized. Monoculture gained popularity because it offered a few advantages, such as; higher yields, simplicity of the process, efficiency and profitability to the farmer.
As the industrialization of agriculture took place profitable monoculture farms were set up. As the global food supply chains were being established companies rushed to set up more farms. Disadvantages of this form of farming were discovered over the years only after the establishment of hundreds of thousands of monoculture farms across the world. Unfortunately, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.
Depletion of Nutrients
Each type of crop or plant needs certain nutrients from the soil to grow. The problem with monoculture is that large farms which plant the same crop year after year use up all the nutrients which that crop requires from the soil. This ends up spiraling into a negative cycle for most large farms.
Risk of Diseases & Infestations
While diseases and pests can affect any farm, monoculture farms are at a much higher risk of having large portions of their crop wiped out by diseases or pests in one go. This is because the infestation can hop from one plant to the next uninterrupted. Once a disease or an infestation is discovered farmers usually try to save their remaining healthy plants by destroying or in some cases burning parts of their crop to create a space between the infected plants and the healthy ones.
Use of Pesticides
Each plant or crop attracts a unique set of pests. Monoculture have a large uninterrupted supply of a single crop that bacteria and pests can feast on. To save their crop, farmers are forced to spray chemical pesticides across their fields. Reliance on chemical pesticides are expensive and they destroy the soil’s biodiversity. Pesticides kill the pests but they also kill other organisms that contribute to soil health, such as earthworms, arthropods, nematodes, fungi and healthy bacteria.
Soil Erosion & Degradation
Biodiversity and organic matter in the soil are what help keep it breathing, full of nutrients and in good health. Organic matter is what holds the upper layer of soil together. Destroying this layer of biodiversity on a farm leads to soil degradation and often causes soil erosion.
Contamination of Water Supply
Pesticides can also leech into the ground water and contaminate the entire water table, completely throwing off the natural ecosystem of the area. This can affect the entire region not only the farm that used pesticides in the first place. The long-term health of the entire area suffers.
Polyculture is a much healthier and safer option for farms in the medium to long term. It is a practice in which multiple crops are grown at the same time on a plot of land to try and replicate natural ecosystems. Some forms of polyculture are integrated agriculture, cover cropping, intercropping and permaculture. Polyculture ensures that nutrients in the soil aren’t depleted and pests and diseases don’t sweep across the entire farm in one go. They also help maintain a healthy biodiversity and mimic natural systems. Most importantly they are essential for soil health.
Monoculture farms face rising pest problems, pesticide use, soil degradation and reliance on fertilizers and external nutrients to rejuvenate their soil. Intelligently designed polyculture farms maintain organic matter and biodiversity which keeps the soil healthy and able to maintain nutrient rich crops year after year without relying on external pesticides and fertilizers. All our farms are built using the best polyculture based integrated farming models.
Integrated farming is when crop production and livestock management systems are combined in a series of circular and sustainable processes resulting in a highly efficient farm. In order to optimize their operations integrated farms can also incorporate aspects of energy efficiency, crop health and protection, crop nutrition, soil management, nature conservation, water protection, air quality, human capital, waste management and pollution control.
There are three primary aims of integrated farming:
Farming activity in any given region ends up having an impact on the local environment. Integrated farming should be designed with the surrounding region in mind. Each unit should be designed with the aim of maintaining and enhancing the region’s local biodiversity. There should be an emphasis on soil fertility and water conservation. Additionally, integrated farming units should be designed to continuously provide a wide range of food as well as fiber and renewable materials all year round. Below are some common practices and characteristics of integrated farms.
1. Units are separated
Livestock should be maintained in a separate part of the farm, such as pastures, corrals, or barns. Pastures should be located on parts of the farm which are never cropped. Supplemental forage crops should be grown on other areas of the farm. Manure from livestock enclosures should be collected and applied to crop and forage fields, or added to compost pits.
2. Units are rotated
The land used to for livestock cultivation and crop cultivation should be rotated periodically. Livestock waste and activities such as trampling, grazing and pecking enriches the soil quality. Rotating livestock and farming units periodically decreases the pressure from any given field and spreads nutrients and activity across the entire farm.
3. The farms are a closed loop
Every process should take part, or all, of its inputs from another process on the farm and pass its byproducts on to the next process. In this way, a properly calibrated integrated farm will be a closed loop – with very few inputs required from the outside world.
Benefits of Integrated Farming
Integrated crop and livestock systems have been recognized to be able to:
A good integrated farming setup should incorporate nutrient cycling, which occurs when nutrition is cycled across livestock and crop produce. Animals recycle nutrients contained in forage and feed and make them available in their excreta, becoming part of the on-farm nutrient cycle. Relative quantities of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium vary considerably among species, depending on the foraging preferences of the livestock as well as the feed the farmer chooses to provide. Excreta from rotationally managed animals is dumped directly into pasture ﬁelds that are later planted with seasonal crops. Rotational systems of integrated farming have the potential to contribute signiﬁcantly to soil nutrition and to plant health.
Properly managed, livestock waste can provide the soil organic matter, macronutrient, and trace mineral needs of the soil. Therefore, decreasing the need for external inputs of purchased fertilizer.
Integrated farming can be used to manage weed and pest populations both by the direct effects of livestock feeding habits and by the indirect effects of pasture on weed and pest populations. Poultry, for example, eat weeds and can therefore be used either before crops are planted to clean farms or during crop growth as herb grazers. Reducing farm weeds can, in turn, be correlated to significantly higher crop yields.
Additionally, weeds are suppressed indirectly by the effect of crops planted for foraging. Several studies conducted in Canada in the last decade found that forage plants were as effective as chemical herbicides for control of farm weeds.
In terms of mollusk and arthropod pest control, some livestock, especially poultry, often feed directly on pest species while others, such as cattle, can modify pest habitats enough to mitigate population growth. Animal assisted pest management allows farmers to decrease the need for external inputs of pesticides or the introduction of other pest-control measures.
The use of carnivorous ducks helps reduce snail populations to manageable sizes. Free-range chickens are good at significantly reducing Japanese beetle populations through predation. In some cases of integration farming, cattle grazing has successfully managed to reduce pest grasshopper outbreaks. Cattle compete with grasshoppers for food and alter vegetation and soil, making conditions inhospitable to grasshoppers.
A properly designed integrated farm imitates nature’s principles. At our units, we have increased farm productivity by recycling water and essential nutrients across various subsystems. By designing our facilities to use the latest integrated systems, processes and technologies we have significantly lowered the use of water and space while maintaining high quality and nutrient-dense produce.