Defending the Proper Use of Monoculture
September 27, 2016
Many bloggers have it wrong, Wikipedia had it wrong, and when I found that Agronomy Journal got it wrong, I was compelled to write on the topic once again. Monoculture is not the year-after-year production of the same crop in the same field. That is mono-cropping or continuous cropping, where the better alternative is crop rotation. Monoculture is “when only one crop species is grown in a field at a time” (Loomis and Connor, 1992), and the hard-to-manage alternative is polyculture or intercropping. You can take a picture of monoculture, but not of mono-cropping.
Just where this widespread misuse of “monoculture” started, I am not sure. It probably precedes the internet, and may have something to do with the similarity of monoculture and mono-cropping. More recently, Wikipedia played a part. For years it had a definition that combined the meanings of monoculture and mono-cropping. I suspect that this incorrect definition, and the fact that many people without agricultural backgrounds write about agriculture, has led to the widespread misuse we see today.
I am not about to trot off on some wild quest to correct this. My wife won’t let me:
But I like to think that the readers of this CSANR blog are a step above the browsing masses. So, the next time you want to talk about what is wrong with agriculture, don’t talk about monoculture. Almost all farmers use monoculture; organic, conventional, probably even celebrity farmers. Monocultures are what makes crop rotation work. If you want farmers to use more crop rotation, then decry mono-cropping. Monoculture has a specific meaning, one that no other word shares (that I can think of), so we’d best maintain it for future use.
Loomis, R.S., and D.J. Connor. 1992. Crop Ecology: Productivity and Management in Agricultural Systems. Cambridge University Press.
I’ve found I was late to this issue. Here are some writers who addressed monoculture well before I did.
- 2011 “Monoculture” May Not Mean What You Think It Means, Steve Savage at Applied Mythology
- 2013 The problem with monoculture, Andrew Kniss at Control Freaks
- 2016 Monocultures – the Great Evil of Modern Ag?, Iida Ruishalme at Thoughtscapism