However, when ambition turns to greed, Earth’s natural balance is disturbed, and conflicts arise. Monoculture has existed as long as agriculture all over the world. As crop production sciences have improved in the past century, the environmental impact of monoculture has been most prevalent since the 1930s to 1960s. However, some of the worst instances of the social impacts of monoculture formed in America during the 18th and 19th centuries. Monoculture was dependent on the cash crops at this time: cotton, tobacco, and sugar. These crops were related to the U.S. involvement in slavery.
Today, monocultures are supported mainly by large corporations, who find it easier to get their supplies from a common place. Corn is America’s cash crop of the day; companies like Kellogg's, General Mills, Kraft, and Pepperidge Farms, rely on corn to produce most of their “grain” items. Sometimes, corn is used in the form of corn syrup, an ingredient found in most processed foods. It is also used in alcohol, sweeteners, and livestock feed. Corn in itself isn’t a bad crop, but the amount of space and resources it takes up to suffice company demands is astonishing. According to ERS, 90 million acres of corn can be found in the U.S., mostly in the Heartland region. The NCGA reports that each American consumes an average of 25 pounds of corn per year, and that 32% of corn is American. companies were to buy corn from subsistence farmers as an alternative, food production would take a more local stance.
Without the support of large companies, small-scale farming is a risky business. King Corn reports that two companies: DuPont and Monsanto, control 80% of the U.S. market for corn seed, Archer Daniel's Midland, Bunge, and Cargill control 90% of the grain, and Archer Daniel's Midland, Cargill, Stanley Manufacturing Co. And CPC International control the corn syrup industry. Farmers receive subsidies from the government to regulate prices. However, the lack of competition depletes the purpose of the free-market system. Food system corporations favor monocultures that have the ability to offer lower prices. Monopolies are formed. Therefore, the rich become richer, as small-scale farmers struggle, unable to lower their prices and profit.
One of the goals of monoculture is to cut down on workers and increase production at the same time. To do this, monoculture owners employ migrant farmers to work the land. However, they are often underpaid, and exposed to pest control chemicals. They are often immigrants, but their low wages never allow them to pay for papers that will grant them citizenship, and the “right” to minimum wage.
The worst effects of monoculture are the long-term environmental effects. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), nutrient depletion in soil, and over watering are all related to monoculture. State apiarist Andrew Joseph says that monoculture can lead to CCD because “bee population has faced an environment lacking in diversity, [with] pesticide problem...conditions [that] lead to stressed, sick, and weakened supply. Irrigation of crop makes up 31% of U.S. water supply spendage.
Nutrient depletion in soil is similar. Each crop has specific nutritional needs. If too much of the same crop is planted, it will take up all its specific nutrients from the soil, leaving none leftover. Eventually, all the plants will “starve” to death, and no nutrients will be left to grow other crops. If polyculture (planting different crops together) is used instead, not all the nutrients are used up at once, and nutrients can sometimes compliment each other.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of general knowledge of monoculture. Many people don't know what it is, or even how to define “organic” food. It's easy to assume that food labeled “organic” is not harmful to the environment. A random U.S. citizen described organic as “all natural,” another as “non-gmo? No chemicals or pesticides?” Truthfully, monoculture items are often labeled as organic because they can usually pass the FDA’s loose guidelines without a clear definition of organic itself.
Monoculture is the root of evil in the food industry, as it hurts environmental, public, and economic health. If it continues, humans will no longer be able to grow food, and natural habitats will have been destroyed. Alternatives to monoculture include: local farming, polycultural methods, and permaculture methods (which rotate crops by season). Let's put these methods into use!
Guzman, D. R. (2014, March 31). Monoculture In Farming: The First In A Series On The Food Industry. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
Morris, D. (n.d.). Force policy makers to embrace the science of climate change and create a carbon tax. Retrieved May 11, 2016.
NCGA. (2016). World of Corn. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
NFCC. (n.d.). The Facts Behind King Corn. Retrieved May 7, 2016.