The majority of vegetation crops grown in the United States are used to feed animals not people. To grow sufficient crops as efficiently as possible, many farmers resort to monoculture.
Monoculture is the agricultural practice of growing a single plant species across a vast land area. Instead of growing a variety of crops, as farmers have done throughout most of human history, they instead choose to farm land in such a way that it produces only a single type of crop. Monoculture farming has become more common over the last few decades, and while it can improve yields, sometimes with the help of genetically modified organisms, artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, it is causing great harm to the local ecology and environment, as well as the world as a whole. Because monoculture involves the farming of a single species, it can drastically reduce the biodiversity necessary for a healthy ecology.
Healthy ecologies may be home to many species of plants and animals. These diverse collections of species help to protect the habitat, as each of the species fills a different niche and provides different environmental services. Deer and other herbivores help keep plant populations in check, while mountain lions and other predators prey on these herbivores and keep their populations in check. Bacteria and fungi, for their part, help to break down the dead plants and animals, thereby releasing the nutrients they contain back into the soil.
But monoculture farms lack this type of diversity. Because they are aiming to raise only a single species, these areas don’t support a diverse collection of animals or other plants. This throws the ecosystem out of balance and makes it susceptible to serious problems including plant diseases. While some farmers practice crop rotation year to year, this only replaces one monoculture with another, so doesn’t allow for a wide diversity of species.
Another risk of monoculture farms is that if an insect pest likes the crop, that insect has a large food supply to draw from all in one place, leading to that insect multiplying rapidly. Conversely, a field containing a variety of plants doesn’t provide such a large block of food for the insect, so it is less likely to find the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive. Left to its own defenses, a farm field growing a variety of plants tends to attract fewer insect pests than a field growing just one type of crop. The result of this is that monocultures require the use of more pesticides, further reducing the biodiversity.
If we stopped eating meat, we wouldn’t have to resort to raising monoculture crops so often, and our food system could be more in harmony with nature, allowing many more species to flourish.