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Jordan BerryMr. BulluckSenior Project12 December 2017Industrial Agriculture: MonocultureAt the core of industrial agriculture, lies monoculture, the practice of farming one type of genetically similar plants over a large expanse. Although, some may argue that monoculture maximizes profits for minimum cost, it results in detrimental effects. This harmful method of industrialized farming in the United States has caused irreversible damage to our ecosystem, however, by changing agriculture laws and implementing alternative farming techniques such as crop rotation, we can repair the damage it’s caused to our groundwater supplies, reserve fossil fuels, and protect our natural wildlife.   Introduction Intensive farming is an agricultural intensification and mechanization system that aims to maximize yields from available land through various means, such as heavy use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This intensification and mechanization has also been applied to the raising of livestock with billions of animals, such as cows, pigs and chickens, being held indoors in what have become known as factory farms. Intensive farming practices produce more and cheaper food per acre and animal, which has helped feed a booming human population and may prevent surrounding land from being converted into agricultural landOver 200 years ago, 90 percent of the U.S. population lived on farms and produced their own food to eat. But today, only two percent of the population produces food for the world to consume. Farmers use technology to make advances in producing more food for a growing world. To adjust to this growing population, a  new method of farming emerged: Industrial Agriculture featuring monoculture. While monoculture presents so much risk, it is the number one method of producing crops not only in the United States, but around the world.  But why? By retracing our steps through history we can observe the change and the and the explore the events that led to the monumental transformation in today’s agriculture.   Food Production  Agriculture has made a tremendous contribution to the quality of American life. Not only is it an industry, it is the foundation of our civilization. Agriculture plays an important role in providing the basic essentials for living: the food we eat, the beverages we drink, the clothing we wear, and the materials for our homes. Agriculture also provides us with many of our traditions and values. We demonstrate our appreciation of agriculture by attending food festivals, visiting farms and wineries, planting gardens, and watching our favorite cooking shows on television. In the United States, consumers are lucky to have a food supply that is affordable,  plentiful, and convenient. Because of agriculture, we can enjoy an abundance of food. But where does all that food come from and how is it produced? There are various types of food production featured in the United States, however, when the focus in narrowed down to agriculture, there are four main types: intensive farming, extensive farming, commercial farming and subsistence farming.   Intensive farming features one core principle:  the mechanization system of agriculture that aims to bring about maximum production in the available space provided. A common practice in this type of production involves heavy use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Pesticides are used to kill insects which harm the main crop. Herbicides used to carry out this form of agriculture destroy weeds that infiltrate the territory of the main crops. Fertilizers used in this type of farming have a chemical base. Nutrients obtained from these fertilizers cater to certain specific needs of the plants. For example, nitrogenous chemical fertilizers bring about rapid growth of the green portion (leaves) of the plant. Unlike organic fertilizers (compost) used in organic or sustainable farming, the chemical fertilizers do not provide complete/wholesome nutrition to plants. Growth regulators are also used in this type of cultivation to increase the production of crops. These type of fertilizers are used in order to produce  more and cheaper food per acre, which has helped feed a booming human population.  Intensive farming practices has become an extremely popular way of producing food. This is due, in part, to the tremendous changes in American agriculture. Farmers and farming corporations have become highly efficient and have taken advantage of newer technologies, resulting in a variety of crops produced at a much more accelerated rate. In 1935, there were 6.8 million farms in the United States, and the average farmer produces enough food each year to feed 20 people. In 2002, the number of farms was estimated to be 2.16 million, and the average U.S. farmer produced enough food to feed almost 130 people. (Food Insight) This more efficient method of food production makes food more affordable for the average consumer. Following intensive farming, is extensive farming, which involves practices that are quite the opposite of those in intensive farming. This method of farming employs small amounts of labor and capital, minimizing the use of fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Because extensive agriculture produces a lower yield per unit of land, its commercial use demands large quantities of land in order to be profitable. This demand for land means that extensive agriculture must be continued  where land values are low in relation to labor and capital. Which will result in extensive agriculture being practiced where population densities are low and more commonly, at some distance from primary markets. The crop yield in extensive agriculture primarily depends on the natural fertility of the soil, terrain, climate, and availability of water. Due to low density of population and non-lucrative nature of agricultural system, very few people are seriously interested in agriculture. This results in scarcity of human labor, which increases wages, preventing owners from employing larger labor force. Efforts are always made to maximize crop yield sustainably. Each farmer controls and cultivates extensive farm-land, so production increases significantly. In contrast to intensive farming—where land is culti­vated throughout the year—extensive farming is only limited within a definite span of the year; giving emphasis on producing a single crop.  Developed in the United States, commercial farming simply refers to the production of crops driven by and intended for production and distribution only. Unlike, extensive farming, harvested crops are never consumed by the farmers themselves. This type of farming, like intensive farming, is run by large corporations seek to maximize profit by producing a larger crop yield. Commercial farming is largely dependent upon mechanization, allowing farming industries to cultivate crops on a larger scale.   An advantage of commercial farming is that it ensures increased production. Commercial farming provides more acreage under cultivation, mechanizes operations, controls pest and diseases, therefore, this farming method produces far more than other farming system. Like intensive farming, commercial farming they helps to increase the national stock of food products, making the operations of the commercial farmer cheaper in the long run. This is because the farmer employs more efficient methods of production such as ploughers, harrowers, planters, and harvesters. The farmer is able to control other variables like water supply through irrigation and is able to farm throughout the year, in some cases, lowering the cost of production. While the most farming systems are meant for production, subsistence farming–or subsistence agriculture– is a mode of agriculture in which a plot of land produces only enough food to feed the family or small community working it. All produce grown is intended for consumption purposes as opposed to market sale or trade. Depending on climate, soil conditions, agricultural practices and the crops grown, it generally requires between 1,000 and 40,000 square meters (0.25 to 10 acres) of land to feed each person. A recognizably labor intensive way of living, subsistence farmers can experience a rare surplus of produce goods under conditions of good weather which may allow farmers to sell or trade such goods at market. Because such surpluses are rare, subsistence farming does not allow for consistent economic growth and development, the accumulation of capital, or the specialization of labor. Diets of subsistence communities are confined to little else than what is produced by community farmers. Subsistence crops are usually organic due to a lack of finances to buy or trade for industrial inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides or genetically modified seeds. In the absence of technology, the area of land that a farmer can cultivate each season is limited by factors such as available tools and the quality of the soil. Tools used by subsistence farmers are often primitive. Most farmers do not have access to large domesticated work animals, and therefore clear, toil, and harvest their goods using pointed sticks, hoes, or by hand.Techniques of subsistence farming include “slash and burn” clearing in which farmers clear plots of farmland by cutting down all brush, allowing the debris to dry, and later burning the fallen refuse. This works to clear the field for cultivation, while the leftover ash serves as a natural fertilizer. This type of clearing technique is often employed by subtropical communities throughout lush areas of South and Central America, and parts of Indonesia.If the land does not produce a surplus, due to the fertility of the soil, climate conditions, tools and techniques, or available crop types, the farmer can do no more than hope to subsist on it. Under these conditions, subsequent years with poor harvests often result in food scarcity and famine.Not all subsistence farmers have access to as much land as they can cultivate. Many times, socioeconomic conditions prevent an expansion of farming plots and any increase in produce levels. If inheritance traditions require that a plot be split among an owner’s children upon the owner’s death, plot sizes steadily decrease.  Industrial Food Production  Today, the majority of American farmland is dominated by industrial agriculture which features enormous single-crop farms and animal production facilities. In the past, industrial agriculture was hailed as a technological triumph that would enable a growing world population to feed itself. Today, an expanding chorus of agricultural experts– including farmers as well as scientists and policymakers– sees industrial agriculture as a dead end. The impacts of industrial agriculture on the environment, public health, and rural communities make it an unsustainable way to grow our food over the long term. And better, environmental friendly methods are available.   In a healthy farm system, agriculture operates in unison with the surrounding environment. This starts with fertile soil that stores water and nutrients and provides a stable base to support plant roots. In a sustainable system, soil is kept in balance and crops are regularly rotated throughout the fields in order to supply nutrients to the soil. The concept of this method of agriculture enforces the idea that as farmers take from the land, but also give back. Industrial farming systems disregard that vital need for balance in agriculture. Crops are not rotated in a way that replenishes the soil and land is used continuously without being given time to heal and restore. Manure and chemical fertilizers are used to nourish the soil, however by means of over-application these additives tend to become a large problem and leave long lasting, negative impacts on the environment.  Not only are fertilizers overused, but they contain several different pollutants that infect the land. Synthetic fertilizers contain substances that contaminate waterways and affect the plants and animals that live in them. Salt, a common component found in fertilizers, can greatly damage soil quality and contributes to erosion due to their insoluble inorganic state. Other pollutants such as heavy metals are present in fertilizers and end up being applied to cropland. A 1999 MDH study showed elevated levels of arsenic, lead, zinc, copper and cadmium in some fertilizer products used on industrial farms (Minnesota Department of Health). In balanced amounts, some of these elements can be beneficial to soil and promote plant growth. But as industrial agriculture farms over-apply fertilizers to fields, a significant amount of nutrients accumulates in the soil and instead reduces the soil’s fertility. This damage is not easy to correct, and ultimately renders fertile cropland useless.  Industrial farms emit toxic gases and particles such as methane and hydrogen sulfide that can be a contributing factor to global warming and tarnish the health of those living or working nearby. Air pollution is the consequence of the overuse of machinery and mismanagement of fertilizers that characterize industrial farming. Additionally, chemical fertilizers and pesticides have drawn attention to agriculture as a leading source of water pollution in the United States. Runoff from industrial farms harms fish, degrades aquatic habitats and pollutes drinking water supplies. Additionally, factory farms use tremendous amounts of water, which takes away from clean drinking water supplies.  The Problem with Monoculture  While the unsustainable practices in industrialized farming result in negative affects, there are many reasons why they are so commonly used. In fact, these effects can be drawn to one common variable in industrial agriculture: monoculture. Monoculture is simply the practice of repeatedly farming a single crop on the same land (One Green Planet). On the outside, this may not appear harmful, at all. In fact, it would seem logical. Utilizing land to plant one type of crop would, in theory, produce an abundance of crops, and thus maximizing profit yields. And, that is exactly what farmers and large industrial farming companies set out to do.Growers that practice crop monoculture generally do so for economic reasons. The selected crop is the most profitable and any profitability loss from yield declines are less than that which occurs from any rotational options available. In these situations, the ability to minimize the losses associated with monoculture can provide the best option to increase productivity and profitability. But at what cost? While monoculture may produce a bigger harvest, this system of food production focused on extensive single-crop farms are run by farming industries that rely extensively on heavily on large quantities of synthetic herbicides, insecticides, bactericides and fertilizers in order to protect their crop from damage caused by bacteria, weeds, and insects. Theses chemicals remain on the plants and enter the food chain when consumed by humans. Because these pesticides are synthetic, they remain in the soil, not able to decompose and eventually pollute groundwater supplies that degrade the environment and threaten the health of farm workers, neighbors, and consumers. This causes a domino effect, bringing harm to wildlife such as beneficial insects,  native plants and exhausting the surrounding environment. Not only do the practices induced by monoculture fill our produce with synthetic chemicals that causes damage to our health and the earth’s ecosystem, but it also causes other environmental impacts which- in turn- eliminates biological controls, promotes soil degradation, and excessively produces fossil fuels. Biological control is the use of an organism that reduces types of harmful organisms such as weeds and other pests/ insects. Because this form of industrial agriculture lacks diversity, these harmful organisms are all similar in range and tend to fester, multiplying in large numbers and damaging the harvest. Which leads to excessive use of chemicals to preserve the harvest. The lack of plant varieties that naturally produce nutrients to benefit the soil are absent in this form of agriculture.  Apart from the negative impact that the overuse of chemical fertilizers has on the soil, monoculture can lead to soil depletion. The elimination of ground cover crops, such as clovers, barley, and ryegrass; cause detrimental effects to soil health. These crops provide natural protection for the soil from erosion by wind and rain. Without these crops that naturally replenish the soil and the use of harmful chemicals, the soil continually degrades, often meaning that it becomes unusable for agriculture. As a result (in most cases), forests are then cleared to provide new agricultural land, starting the damaging cycle all over again. Because monoculture farms are on such a grand scale, large machines are usually used to harvest the crops. These factory machines require large amounts of energy to produce, sort, pack, and transport the crop that is intended for sales beyond the local region. This inefficient way of producing food requires the contributes to the voluminous use of fossil fuels. As a result, the industrialized mode of agriculture has become one of many large contributing factors of climate change. In a nutshell, all forms of industrialized agriculture method have the same basics. Scientists have always worried that there would not be enough food to meet the enormous population. So far, agriculture industries have kept up with the demand without much regard to how its affecting our environment. Monoculture has caused damage to our groundwater supplies, increased the use of fossil fuels, and damaged our natural wildlife all to meet one main goal: making more in less time. So, what is the solution?The Solution: Sustainable agriculture Works cited:


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