Today Monocrop Fields Are the Industry Standard, However This Practice is Very Problematic
If you’ve ever driven through a rural area you would’ve quickly realized that all of the individual plants in each of the fields are the same type of plant. Acres, tens of acres, even hundreds or thousands of acres of the same type of plant. Most times not only are these fields planted exclusively one type of plant, but only one variety of the same plant too.
While this makes it easier for the farmer to do things like buy their seed in bulk, know what pesticide to use, how much to irrigate, and even what the projected yield will be, it can raise far more problems than benefits.
The majority of crops grown in mass quantities on these large scale commercial farms are grown from seeds produced by a few very large corporations. One such is Monsanto. Now, if you’ve heard of anything ag you’ve probably heard of Monsanto. You’re probably very familiar with their herbicide products like Round-Up, but Monsanto is not just limited to what’s used to treat the crops that are being grown for American consumption.
Companies like Monsanto (which was acquired by Bayer in 2015) hold an enormous amount of patents on seeds. These patented seeds are genetically modified varieties of often staple crops. By holding these patents large companies can own a seed and prevent farmers from saving their seed. However, farmers in the past have run into trouble with such companies when their non-patented seed becomes contaminated with patented GMO seed.
Seed contamination can occur when patented seeds (like Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready crops) cross pollinate with crops grown from other seed. Monsanto is infamous for filing lawsuits against farmers who inadvertently end up growing these crosses. They give an allowance of 1% of the seed planted being seeds patented by Monsanto, but frequently this rule is disregarded and they sue for even small infringements. Monsanto owns hundreds of GMO seed patents. These patents are most commonly utility patents which expire in twenty years.
Another large problem with the culture of monocropping is that streamlining the industry is a top priority. Prior to 2013 there were six major companies that controlled the commercial seed industry. Now there are only four. (Bayer, Corteva, ChemChina, and BASF) What’s problematic with this structure is that it grants these companies a lot of power. When there’s very little competition companies have nearly free reign to do as they wish. This can come in the form of monopolizing entire crop industries to creating policies that directly harm farmers. These policies make it so that the farmer is at the mercy of large chemical corporations and frequently live in massive amounts of debt.
However, I believe the most pressing issue with monocropping is not the legal trouble that farmers find themselves in, or the domination of seed markets, or the financial burden growers are under because of large corporations. To me the biggest issue is the lack of genetic diversity. When 85% of soy grown in the U.S. is made up of a very small number of patented GMO varieties it leaves the industry with a very low genetic diversity. This can and will cause major problems if there is ever a major pest or disease outbreak. When there is very limited genetic diversity, a pest or a disease that finds a way to severely attack one area of planted crop can easily attack the rest of the crop planted that is that variety. This means that large amounts of a staple crop can be wiped out in one fell swoop.
With as large as these corporations and agriculture industries are it’s easy to feel powerless. I assure you, however that that is not the case. Do your research and be out spoken. Inform those around you about the problems in the food system. You can also combat these industries by relying less on them for your food! Grow a personal garden and shop local. If you live in an area that has seasonal farmer’s markets, make a habit of sourcing your produce there. Another way to distance yourself from industries that have very strong ties to large chemical companies like Bayer and Corteva is to eat less meat. 36% of U.S. corn is grown to feed livestock. With a lesser dependence on the commercial meat industry for food there will be a lesser demand for GMO corn.
By reallocating your dollar you can help change the landscape of American agriculture. Monocropping is a very problematic practice and it becomes a greater issue every year that goes by. Try to be informed and be conscious of the world around you.
Hubbard, Kristina. “The Sobering Details Behind the Latest Seed Monopoly Chart.” Civil Eats, 18 Jan. 2019, civileats.com/2019/01/11/the-sobering-details-behind-the-latest-seed-monopoly-chart/#:~:text=The%20newest%20findings%20show%20that,out%20with%20ChemChina%20and%20BASF.
Foley, Jonathan. “It’s Time to Rethink America’s Corn System.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 5 Mar. 2013, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/time-to-rethink-corn/#:~:text=Today’s%20corn%20crop%20is%20mainly,of%20the%20rest%20is%20exported.
Howard, Phillip H. Global Seed Industry Changes Since 2013, 21 May 2020, philhoward.net/2018/12/31/global-seed-industry-changes-since-2013/.
says:, Morgan, et al. “The Patent Landscape of Genetically Modified Organisms.” Science in the News, 11 Aug. 2015, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/the-patent-landscape-of-genetically-modified-organisms/.