It’s getting to be that time of year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere: garden planning! Drawings are made, seeds are being started, in warmer areas plants are either in the ground or soon will be. And intercropping can help you to be as efficient with your garden space as possible.
Not only does this ultimately boost your food production, but it keeps your plants healthier as well. So, just what does intercropping entail? Let’s take a look.
What is intercropping?
Intercropping is the practice of planting two crops in proximity to one another, thereby producing more food on the same piece of land. Common examples include planting a short crop with quick maturity, such as radish, along with a tall crop with longer time to mature, such as tomato or corn. The radish matures and is harvested before the tomato grows tall enough to shade it out. This is different from succession planting, where we harvest one crop, then plant another.
What are the types of intercropping?
There are actually a couple of different types of intercropping. They are:
Mixed intercropping: exactly what it sounds like. Crops are totally mixed within the grow space.
Row cropping: Component crops are arranged in alternate rows. Variations on this theme include alley cropping, where crops are grown between rows of trees, and strip cropping, where several rows of one crop alternate with several rows of the other. Some even plant between rows of photovoltaic cells, a practice known as agrivoltaics.
Temporal intercropping: growing a fast-maturing crop alongside a slow-maturing crop, as in the tomato/radish example above.
Relay cropping: the second crop is planted when the first is nearing the fruiting stage. The first crop is harvested to make room for full development of the second. This is very similar to succession planting.
What are the benefits of intercropping?
Nobody engages in intercropping solely because it looks pretty (well, maybe some do). The reason that intercropping is used is because of its benefits. Here are the top three reasons you may want to consider intercropping in your summer garden this year.
Resource partitioning: This involves taking advantage of the differing needs of the crops. You don’t want crops competing with each other for space, nutrients, water, or light. Examples of this include planting a deep-rooted crop along with a shallow-rooted one, or planting a tall crop next to one that requires partial shade.
Mutualism: Three Sisters planting would be an example of this, as is companion planting. We plan our plantings for the mutual benefit of both, such as giving structural support to climbing plants and adding nitrogen fixers to the mix, both of which are done in Three Sisters planting. Marigolds and nasturtiums keep pests away from a number of crops, including broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
Pest management: Certain companion plantings, such as marigolds and nasturtiums noted above, help repel pests from cucurbits and brassicas. Trap cropping is another method: planting a sacrificial plant to keep predators away from the plants you want. One example is planting a deer salad well away from the greens you want for your own table. Cherry tomatoes, for example, are very attractive to both stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs.
(With increased harvest with intercropping, you’re going to want a way to preserve everything. Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to home canning to help.
Of course, nothing in Nature is free.
Intercropping tends to require more management and poses special problems in crop rotation, most notably in the area of timing. Weather will complicate matters, and both mulching & cover crops may be a bit less effective.
One thing to consider when planning our intercropping is taxonomic family. We don’t want to plant things together that come from the same family, for example tomatoes and potatoes, because they have similar nutrient needs and attract similar pests.
Also in this example, both are fairly tall and take the entire season to mature. Both prefer bright light, so tomatoes can easily shade out your potatoes, and that’s not what we had in mind! Tomatoes have a deep root structure while potatoes produce their tubers underground in a spreading fashion. For that reason, there will be competition for the soil space that can result in lower yields for both crops. Again, not what we had in mind!
Planting radishes or another short-time-to-maturity root crop would work, since you’ll harvest that crop well before the tomato root system is fully developed. Short-time-to-maturity (TTM) spinach and other greens would also be excellent choices in this instance.
A side benefit here would be weed suppression. There’s no room for weeds to grow while the short TTM crops are developing, and by the time you harvest those, the tomatoes are well enough developed to shade out the weeds.
Another great example is planting between your cabbage & cauliflower, since these take a long time to develop, allowing time to grow short-maturity items such as greens and herbs between them. The examples are endless, but I think I’ve made my point here.
As discussed above, avoid using plants from the same taxonomic family.
Group plants with similar watering needs
Choose plants with compatible root systems and light/water needs
Time-sequence so your plantings aren’t competing at the worst possible moments in their development
Include plants such as legumes, accumulators, and green manures that will help revitalize your soil
Include species, such as flowers and culinary herbs, that will help repel insects and aid in plant growth. Companion planting guides will be a very useful reference here.
Want some tips on intercropping?
This should give you a good baseline for getting started in intercropping this summer.
Arugula, bush beans, beets, broccoli raab, carrots, green onions, lettuce, mizuna, radish, spinach, and tatsoi
As discussed above, tall crops such as tomato and corn can be used to provide the partial shade that other plants prefer. Trellised squashes, cucumbers, and melons can also be used in this way.
Shade lovers that might do well include: arugula, beets, endive, lettuce, mizuna, mustard, pak choi, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and tatsoi.
Three Sisters utilizes this strategy. The corn grows tall and provides structural support for the pole beans, while the beans enrich the soil for corn, a heavy feeder. Squash grows along the ground acting as a mulch and helping deter marauding animals interested in the corn and beans. As discussed above, root crops work really well here.
In addition to radishes, consider carrots and green onions. Those don’t require much space above or below ground. They can be seeded in among the broccoli, cabbages, peppers, and kale as well, or planted along bed borders. If you go for the mixed intercropping rather than sticking to rows, it’s possible to cram quite a bit into a very small space!
Intercropping, and its cousin succession planting, can be used to boost food production in many spaces big and small.
It does take some planning to find plants with similar but not too similar preferences, avoid taxonomic families, and keep garden maintenance manageable. Companion planting charts are also helpful here, since we don’t want to plant things together such as tomatoes and kohlrabi!
I found out the hard way that these two don’t get along well. My kohlrabi was growing well in the lower story, while my tomatoes were barely flowering, let alone setting fruit! By the time I pulled the kohlrabi it was too late in my growing season to undo the damage, and I ended up buying canning tomatoes that year.
It’s only a “conspiracy theory” until things become too blatant to ignore. Despite our being told for months now that our supply chain problems were actually all just a figment of our imagination, food shortages and the food infrastructure system have now gotten so bad that the truth can no longer be denied.
The United States of America is running out of food.
To long-time readers of The Organic Prepper, or to anybody who walks through the grocery store with their eyes open, this should come as no surprise.
Things have become so blatant that now, even DC is weighing in on the matter.
It was on March 21, 2022, that Jen Psaki, who formerly criticized the idea of supply chain problems even existing or mattering, said, “We do anticipate that higher energy, fertilizer, wheat, and corn prices could impact the price of growing and purchasing critical food supplies for countries around the world.” She went on to add that this wasn’t anything we had to worry about here in the United States.
I don’t know about you, but I just paid a record price to fill my car with gas the other day. This, on top of routinely being unable to find the things I need at the store.
Just a few days after Psaki’s comments, on March 24, 2022, Biden said food shortages are indeed coming.
Despite the massive inflation we’re seeing in the US, despite the American’s growing struggle with putting food on the table, now, you’re going to be paying taxes to go overseas for the upcoming famines.
Yes, you read that right.
Your troubles with keeping your family fed, with keeping gas in your tank, and with keeping the lights on are not only going to get worse, but you’re going to be forced to pay for people overseas now as well. Global redistribution of wealth is taking place.
It was in Biden’s speech about the impending food crisis that he said, “We are in the process of working out with our European friends what it should be, what it would take to help alleviate the concerns relative to food shortages.”
As soon as I heard this, I knew what was next.
I was right.
Next up, Biden mentioned that Americans were going to make a “significant” investment in humanitarian aid throughout the world for the impending food crisis.
Let the individual decide whether he will send money to somewhere overseas. Let the churches band together and raise funds. The NPOs can collaborate, using willfully given dollars to pitch in if they so desire. The Constitution doesn’t permit forced charity. This is robbery for the redistribution of wealth on a global scale.
Yes, we are facing a food shortage problem. Yes, it is going to get worse as the war in Ukraine escalates. And yes, things are going to get worse for you because you are going to have less money to spend on the food you need because it is going to be taken from you and given away to somebody overseas. Will your money be given to somebody who burns American flags in their free time? Will it go to people who are actively engaged in acts of terrorism? Perhaps it will go to people who support policies you believe are evil?
Wherever it goes, it doesn’t matter. It is stolen money. To be charitable with somebody else’s things doesn’t make one generous – it makes them a thief.
There is a high probability that you will struggle to keep your family cared for to the level that they are used to over the course of the next year. The Thirdworldization of America is about to accelerate. Your children may complain that they are hungry. You may not be able to afford Christmas presents for your family. You may end up where you have to choose between eating lunch or eating dinner. And all this while, the money you earned that could have prevented all this suffering will have been taken from you and given away to somebody overseas.
It doesn’t matter where you look, everybody is now saying that the US is about to experience food shortages.
People think preppers are crazy until they need their stuff. Nobody thought about keeping spare toilet paper on hand until the lockdowns. It was then that the world went mad.
You’re going to see the same thing with food. What was once a part of the prepper movement is about to go mainstream. And when it does, just like during the toilet paper crisis, the world will go mad. We’ve seen people get into fistfights so that they can wipe their butt. What will they do when they are hungry?
I hope you have your food storage in order. You’re going to need it.
I’ll begin with a simple definition: monocropping is planting and growing one type of plant in the same place, year after year. It’s the type of planting that occurs under a type of agriculture called monoculture. If you’ve ever driven through large agricultural fields completely filled with — say, corn — as far as the eye can see, you’re in monoculture country. Monoculture is an agricultural system that involves the planting of a single crop, over and over.
That cornfield was a cornfield last year, and the year before, and it will be a cornfield next year, and into the foreseeable future. It’s a monoculture because corn holds a monopoly on that field — no other crops allowed. Because monocultures typically exist at large scale, and can accommodate both conventional and organic farming, the vast majority of the agricultural yield in industrialized countries comes from monocultures.
The question is, why? It’s obvious that nature doesn’t monocrop. You’ll never see an area untouched by humans that is completely dominated by a single species of plant. Nature abhors not just a vacuum, but sameness. Biodiversity is the signature of a natural system.
To understand the reasons behind the global shift to monocultures, and why the agricultural sector has embraced it so wholeheartedly, we have to look at the Green Revolution of the 1960s, and the hopes of the scientists, policy makers, and farmers who were struggling with the twin scourges of poverty and starvation.
How Did Monocropping Come About?
Monocropping was a cornerstone of a series of initiatives intended to address hunger throughout the world by increasing agricultural production. The plan was to develop a wide array of effective pesticides and herbicides, create and teach farmers to use new synthetic fertilizers, breed new and improved “high-yield varieties” (HYVs) of calorically dense crops, and mechanize farm equipment.
The thing that was going to make all of these innovations work was a shift in how agricultural land was used. Traditionally, subsistence farmers and smallholders planted a variety of crops, from grains to pulses to nuts to vegetables to fruits to herbs. But the new technologies and systems of mass production were only going to work, the thinking went, at a large scale.
The big machines were expensive and were designed to handle a specific crop. You don’t harvest wheat with the same equipment you use to harvest soybeans. Each crop required a custom application of biocides and fertilizers, as well. In order to get the most out of these technological advances, farming had to change from the workshop model to the factory model.
To replace biodiverse gardens and farms with industrial-sized agriculture, vast swaths of arable land were converted into single-crop use. That way, the farmers could use their new equipment and synthetic chemicals on new HYVs that were bred to tolerate the toxins and make the most of the fertilizers.
As a result, farms around the world increased in size, on average doubling the number of acres under cultivation, in order to produce more food with less labor. With a single farmer able to produce more food, the number of farmers and farm laborers decreased, as human inputs were replaced by machines and by chemicals, often delivered from the air. Over time, more and more farms relied solely on these high-yielding crops, in the form of monocropping, to increase yields and profits.
This logic led to vigorous efforts to bioengineer HYVs to produce heartier, faster-growing, and more resilient crops that define monoculture, rather than relying on trial and error or “natural” breeding.
Now, let’s look at some of the monoculture advantages and disadvantages for farmers.
Economic Advantages of Monocropping for Farmers
At first, farmers thought they were on to a good thing. They could now produce more food, and opted to cultivate the one crop that had the greatest profit potential for their soil and climate.
Another monocropping benefit to farmers was the perceived simplicity that saved them time and money, at least in the short-term. Focusing solely on a single crop meant the costs for seeds, equipment, fertilizer, and so on, remained relatively consistent over time, and farmers didn’t have to keep looking for new suppliers.
GMOs and Monocropping
As bioengineered (BE) crops (formerly known as GMOs), such as Roundup Ready corn, soybeans, and sugar beets hit the market, the pairing process got even simpler. The farmer had a standing order of glyphosate (one of the active ingredients in Bayer’s — formerly Monsanto’s — weed killer Roundup) that accompanied every purchase of BE seeds.
Harvesting also got much simpler, as a single machine designed specifically for corn, wheat, or beets could do the work of hundreds of human laborers.
The Emergence of Factory Farms
And last, but certainly not least among the perceived benefits of monocultures, monocrops became inextricably interlinked with a massive expansion in factory farming (or what the industry calls Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs). Today, much of the world’s corn and soy are fed to livestock, not to humans. And CAFO-raised cows, pigs, and chickens represent an almost limitless market for these crops.
The overall result of monocropping, for the first couple of decades, appeared to be mostly positive — at least in terms of the goals of bringing the world more and cheaper calories and increasing the economic security of the farmers who provided it. But all those perceived savings came with hidden costs that added up over time.
Monocultures (and the Green Revolution in general) were promoted to increase the global food supply. While that’s happened, there have been several attendant negative consequences. (I’d say “unforeseen consequences” but I’m not sure that’s true. It didn’t take psychic powers to imagine the effects of a dietary pattern made up largely from factory farmed animal products and processed corn, soy, wheat, and palm oil replacing traditional diets.)
Economic Disadvantages of Monocropping for Farmers
The fundamental issue with monocropping is the “all the eggs in one basket” problem. Crop failure is an inevitable part of farming. For myriad reasons that farmers can’t control (most of them falling under the categories of weather, pests, and disease), not all plants thrive and produce a bountiful and profitable harvest every single year.
In a biodiverse ecosystem, a threat to one crop may not be a threat to others. An infestation of stem borers can destroy summer squash but may leave eggplant untouched. An unexpected hail may crush corn and not bother beets.
But when fields contain just one crop, from genetically identical stock, every single plant is equally vulnerable to threat. A pest population can jump easily from one plant to another, especially when there are no other species of plants in between and when crops are planted close together for efficiency.
Monocropping Through History
To see the devastating results when a monocrop comes under threat, check out the history of the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, in which a single genetic variant of potatoes was wiped out by a water mold. The Irish people’s dependence on that variant for the majority of their calories meant that over a million people starved to death (an eighth of the entire Irish population), and millions more left the country as refugees.
The history books offer at least one more example of the dangers of relying on monocrops. The world’s most popular banana up until the 1950s was a variant known as Gros Michel. You can’t find a single one anymore, as the world’s supply was knocked out by a fungus that caused Panama disease, which led to banana wilt.
In response, banana producers turned to a less tasty variety, the Cavendish, which is the fruit we know today. Unfortunately, the banana industry didn’t learn its lesson, as the Cavendish comprises 99% of the world’s banana production, and is now under attack from a new variant of Panama disease called TR4. Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, predicted in an NPR interview that the Cavendish could become extinct in the next 10–30 years.
A Trap for Farmers
Monoculture farming can become a trap for the farmers, who often have no choice but to keep purchasing the same seeds and biocides from their agribusiness vendors. Since the seed and agrochemical market was consolidated through mergers and acquisitions into just four main global players, these firms can exert monopolistic power over the farmers who depend on them for seeds and chemical inputs.
The result is increased costs and eroded profit margins for farmers. For example, the price of corn seed rose from under $27 per planted acre of seed to over $90 from 1990 to 2019, far outstripping the rate of inflation. And because monocrop corn farmers have invested so heavily in machinery and infrastructure for growing and harvesting corn, they can’t easily exercise free choice and move to another crop or growing model.
The consolidation of seed and supply companies into just a few global companies isn’t the end of the “bigger is better” story. Farms themselves are growing larger, by buying up competitors’ land or squeezing family farmers out of business. Bigger farms that buy at large scale are rewarded with favorable pricing, which makes it much harder for smaller farms to compete fairly in the marketplace.
Many farmers are forced to buy Bayer seeds and pesticides even if they don’t want to. When neighboring farms spray so much of the weed killer dicamba that the air turns hazy, those toxic clouds can waft for two to three miles, killing any soybean plants that aren’t bioengineered with dicamba-resistant genes — which is to say, any soybeans not made by Bayer.
Government Subsidies and Monocultures
Not coincidentally, crops produced in a monoculture system are often the same ones that are subsidized by the government (at taxpayer expense, of course). Subsidization is generally delivered in the form of insurance for farmers, guaranteeing that they can sell their crop above a certain price, no matter how low the actual market value for that crop falls. The primary subsidized crops in the US are corn, soy, wheat, and rice.
One out of every five dollars earned by US farmers comes directly from government payouts. These subsidies now buffer farmers not just from the threat of a bad harvest or market crash, but from any marketplace fluctuation. Without subsidies, it would be economic insanity to grow just one or two crops. If the price of corn dropped sufficiently, a farm that relied entirely or mostly on corn for its income could get completely wiped out in a single season.
Finally, subsidies tend to favor large farms, as government payouts often disproportionately go to the biggest producers.
Monoculture’s Impacts on the Food Supply & Food Insecurity
At a large scale, monocropping means that poor countries must compete with wealthy ones, in the open market, for a slice of the same global food supply. While traditionally a poor country might be able to grow its own food more cheaply, since wages were also lower, now the entire world bids for commodity crops, which places lower-income nations at a disadvantage.
Because the Green Revolution, in general, and monocropping, in particular, prioritizes efficiency over resilience, there’s very little slack in the system when anything goes wrong. And in agriculture, things often do go wrong. Shocks and uncertainties are part of the web of life, which is why nature builds redundancy and diversity into its design.
When humans decimate that diversity through monocropping, any event that leads to a diminished harvest has ripple effects, such as increasing food prices and bringing about greater food insecurity.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Monocropping
We’ve seen this play out during the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank, a long-time supporter of industrialized agriculture at scale, has admitted that even before the pandemic, monocropped agriculture was collapsing. Here’s a remarkable sentence from an article on the World Bank’s website: “Even before COVID-19 reduced incomes and disrupted supply chains, chronic and acute hunger were on the rise due to various factors, including conflict, socio-economic conditions, natural hazards, climate change and pests.”
As the pandemic unfolded, the article continues, these already scarce resources became even more expensive, with the Agricultural Commodity Price Index increasing 25% from January 2021 to January 2022. Again, the global economically poor were getting priced out of access to food grown on their own lands, which replaced the diverse and healthful horticulture and subsistence practices that had fed their families for generations.
For example, monocropping has displaced regional staples, such as millet, sorghum, and cassava, all culturally and nutritionally important sources of calories throughout much of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and South America. These foods have been part of traditional healthy diets for hundreds of years, and their displacement threatens global crop diversity.
Monoculture’s Impacts on Human Health
Human health also suffers when factory-farmed animal products and processed grains and oils replace traditional whole foods in our diets. Monocultures of corn and palm oil can produce more calories — but far less nutrition — per acre than many other crops. In a world of cheap calories from fractionated foods, malnutrition now refers as much to micronutrient deficiencies as to starvation.
A 2021 research paper on the effects of monocropping on the health of the economically poor highlights the scope of the problem in its first sentence: “Approximately 2 billion people globally are affected by micronutrient deficiencies; much of which is attributed to consuming a monotonous diet of nutrient-deficient staple crops.”
Researchers have also documented a relationship between the decrease in dietary diversity and a reduction in the diversity of the human microbiome, with accompanying health challenges. And once a particular strain of beneficial microbes goes extinct in a population, there’s a risk that it will never return.
Monocropping also makes it harder for farmworkers to lead lives of dignity, freedom, and security. As pests become resistant to pesticides, and weeds gain resistance to herbicides, agricultural chemical manufacturers have engaged in an arms race, increasing both the quantity and toxicity of chemical applications. While there’s some debate about how much exposure to these agents harms consumers, there’s no doubt that farmworker exposure to biocides is extremely hazardous.
Monoculture’s Impact on Children
Children of mothers who work in pesticide-contaminated fields experience more neurological issues, cognitive impairment, and autism. Girls who grow up exposed to pesticides are at greater risk of infertility and breast cancer.
And throughout the world, children involved in monocropped agriculture, such as on oil palm plantations, are being exploited. Globally, millions of children and adults are essentially enslaved by their agricultural employers.
Environmental Impacts of Monocropping
Humans aren’t the only species being harmed by monocropping. The practice is making the planet more susceptible to the ravages of climate change by eroding the land’s ability to retain soil and water.
A 2020 study published in the prestigious journal Nature reported that land used for agriculture or tree farms, which comprises 40% of all the non-ice-covered land on the planet, “… is less able to withstand fires, pests, and extreme weather events.” And since monocropping farmers lack the agility to shift their planting strategies in the face of climate change, they’re extremely vulnerable to these effects.
Pest and Weed Resistance
As we’ve seen, monocropping and pesticide use go hand in hand. But insects and weeds are rapidly developing resistance to the most widely used pesticides, which creates a vicious cycle — when bioengineered, pesticide-resistant crops fail, agribusiness has doubled down on the strategy by unleashing an “arms war” of increased and more diverse pesticide deployment.
This creates two additional problems. First, since the costs of losing the battle to a pest or pathogen can mean economic disaster for growers and consumers, there’s little appetite to risk alternative approaches to pest management that don’t involve all-out chemical warfare. Second, climate change means that new pests can now thrive in areas where they until recently had never been seen.
Effect on Pollinators
I’m sorry to say this, but it gets worse. According to a 2019 report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), monocropping, and the pesticide use that accompanies it, now threatens not just plant diversity, but pollinator diversity as well. According to the FAO, over one million species of plants and animals are endangered, including many insect pollinators without whose hard work we would be in real trouble. Of the 20 fastest growing crops in the world, 16 require pollination from insects or other animals. And the danger is not evenly distributed — the most affected countries are the emerging and developing nations in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Disrupts Water Supply
Monocropping also compromises our precious water supply. Fertilizers add nitrates, nitrites, and phosphates to our drinking water, as well as to other bodies of water. Nutrients leach out of our food supply and into water — which not only don’t benefit the ecology of rivers, lakes, and ponds but can harm them by creating the conditions for algal blooms that starve aquatic creatures of oxygen.
And impoverished monocropped soil is less able to absorb rainwater, leading to more flooding and more dependency on irrigation.
Decreased Soil Biodiversity
Fertilizers, pesticides, and factory farm waste also harm the ability of soil to sustain life. Monocrops keep adding the same things and depleting the same things, leading to less biodiverse, resilient, and mineral-rich soil (and more dependence on external inputs such as chemical fertilizers).
Monocropping reduces organic matter in soil and can cause significant erosion. This decreases the diversity and abundance of bacterial communities in soil, which in turn undermines plant health and ultimately the health of the humans who eat the plants.
Sustainable Alternatives to Monocultures
As scary and sad as all this is, there’s some good news that’s also part of the story — we know how to grow food in ways that heal rather than harm the earth and ourselves.
What’s known as regenerative agriculture, and millennia-old, indigenous growing ways, prioritize practices that mimic natural ecological processes and promote biodiversity. Shifting to regenerative agricultural processes is also one of the most powerful levers at our disposal to combat human-caused global climate chaos.
Regenerative farming focuses on the health of the soil as a top priority. Unlike monocropping, which sacrifices long-term soil health for the short-term production of marketable crops (did none of these scientists or policy makers encounter the story of “the Goose Who Laid the Golden Egg” as a child?), responsible land stewards treat the soil as their primary asset, which produces wealth in the form of food year after year.
Regenerative practices have been shown to enhance soil health, increase soil-based carbon stores (which is good for the climate as well as the plants growing in that soil), improve the physical structure of the soil so that it can hold more carbon, water, and oxygen, and boost soil biodiversity.
Intercrops, Cover Crops, and Polyculture
Other examples of sustainable growing include intercropping — planting more than one crop in a field — and polycultures, which means planting multiple crops together that all help each other grow better.
A well-known example of such a polyculture is the “3 Sisters” of South and Central America: corn, beans, and squash. Planted together, all three do much better than any one on its own. The squash puts out big leaves that outcompete weeds, but only after the corn and beans have grown taller than the squash leaves. The corn provides a frame upon which the beans can climb. And the beans, like all legumes, fix nitrogen in the soil for the other two sisters. The result is healthier plants and higher yields without the need for so many (or any) chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
Another technique, planting cover crops on part of the land to serve as “green manure” for other crops, adds nutrients and reduces the need to import fertility from outside the farm.
Integrated Pest Management
A sophisticated method of dealing with insects that eat crops, integrated pest management (IMP) also mimics nature, which doesn’t try to eliminate species entirely but keeps them in check through predation. Rather than killing life and reducing biodiversity, IMP takes the opposite approach, nurturing the presence of organisms that prey on the critters that prey on the crops.
Nature, of course, doesn’t grow food in rows, but produces its bounty in meadows, orchards, glens, jungles, and forests. All these ecosystems are characterized by robust biodiversity that’s expressed in vertical layers, with roots, ground cover, shrubs, bushes, short trees, and tall trees all sharing the sun, soil, and rain to their collective benefit. Agroforestry is an approach to growing crops that mimics the design and function of a grove, with crops and trees interplanted.
While there is always more to learn, and there are many new breakthroughs to be had, this isn’t entirely new science. Indigenous farmers have been refining these techniques for millennia, to protect their crops from extreme weather events, maximize the resources that can be harvested from a single location (legumes and lettuce and lumber, oh my!), increase soil fertility, and store carbon.
Indigenous farmers also save and treasure many varieties of each crop, which increases the odds that any disease that attacks a particular strain won’t be able to destroy the entire crop. And the genetic variability also provides nutritional and usage variability, so the community can get far more from its arable land than a single crop would provide. This approach truly provides the farmers with land for life, rather than cash crops for a few seasons.
What Can You Do as a Consumer?
Given the urgency of our collective generational challenge — to produce food sustainably and ethically so that all may be fed — what can each of us do to participate in the shift from industrial monocropping to regenerative agriculture?
At a personal level, we can start by directing our hard-earned money towards foods that align with our values.
1. Eliminate Factory Farmed Meat and Dairy
A strategy with a particularly big impact is to steer clear of industrially produced animal products such as meat and dairy. That’s because much of the monocropped and bioengineered corn and soy grown around the world goes to feed livestock.
2. Cut Down on Processed Foods
You can also say no to monocropping by reducing your purchases of processed foods, especially those made with palm oil, non-organic corn, and soy by-products. This isn’t as simple as looking for “corn” or “soy” on a food label: corn by-products can hide behind words like maltodextrin, sorbitol, and fructose (here’s a primer on avoiding these substances in packaged foods), while soy can be found in mono- and diglycerides and monosodium glutamate, among many other sources.
3. Buy Sustainable and Ethically Sourced Food
If that’s what not to buy, what shopping strategies encourage more environmentally friendly and regenerative methods of growing food? As much as possible, buy a diversity of locally grown, non-BE, fair trade, and organic produce. The good news is, most of the world’s farms are still small and family-run, and typically don’t grow crops in monocultures. Smaller-scale farms are more likely to practice composting and other sustainable methods that reduce soil erosion and in some cases, even sequester carbon into the ground.
4. Shop Local and Small
To really increase your odds of supporting an environmentally responsible farm, frequent your local farmers market, support a nearby farm stand, or join a CSA (community supported agriculture) collective. It’s a great way to connect with small-scale folks who are more likely to practice crop rotation, companion planting, and other sustainable techniques. You can ask them how they grow their food and learn about what they are doing, too. A lot of thoughtful farmers love to be seen for, and to brag about, the good things they do. And by spending money within your local economy, you help your community become more abundant.
5. Go Organic
Buying organic can be another way to steer clear of monocrops, as organic farming methods are typically not compatible with monocropping. While some large-scale organic operations may adopt aspects of monocropping for certain crops, this is more often the exception than the rule.
The majority of organic farms are practicing polyculture and crop rotation, prioritizing soil health, and using cover crops. And by definition, they also can’t use most conventional pesticides or bioengineering, so overall their farming practices tend to be better for people and the environment.
6. Grow Your Own Food
You can also lead by example by growing some of your own food. It’s a great way to reduce or eliminate your reliance on industrial agriculture in all its problematic forms. You’ll also buffer yourself from future disruptions in the world’s food supply such as we saw during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you have a lawn, you’re actually tending your own tiny monoculture of grass. You can show your neighbors (and yourself) what’s possible by turning that lawn into something more diverse and useful. You can grow food, or you might also plant a pollinator garden, grow food for birds, or sequester carbon by planting small trees. All of these options can improve the health of the soil and give a hand to your local wildlife.
Say No to Monocropping
Monocropping is an unsustainable farming system that has serious negative impacts on farmers, farmworkers, society, and the environment. What began as a proposed solution to world hunger turned into a race for ever-higher yields and short-term profits.
For humans and the environment to thrive, we need to shift to farming methods that are sustainable and even regenerative, putting more back into the soil than we extract.
And all of us can play an important part by not buying food produced using monocropping methods on large-scale industrial farms — instead supporting local, small-scale, and organically produced food.
By the end of 2022, we are going to witness very serious shortages of food in many parts of the globe. In fact, World Bank President David Malpass is openly admitting that we are now facing “a huge supply shock” as a result of the war in Ukraine. Of course, we were already moving into a global food crisis even before the war erupted. According to the UN, worldwide food prices in February 2022 were 20.7 percent higher than they were in February 2021, fertilizer prices have gone absolutely nuts, crop production is down all over the planet due to crazy weather patterns, and supply chain problems caused by the pandemic continue to create ongoing headaches. But now World War 3 has erupted, and that is going to push this rapidly growing global food crisis to a level that none of us have ever seen before.
Under normal conditions, Ukraine exports tremendous amounts of food and is considered to be one of the most important “breadbaskets” on the entire planet.
Unfortunately, everything has changed now, and this has pushed the global price of wheat up 55 percent since a week before the invasion happened…
Ukrainian farmers have been forced to neglect their fields as millions flee, fight or try to stay alive. Ports are shut down that send wheat and other food staples worldwide to be made into bread, noodles and animal feed. And there are worries Russia, another agricultural powerhouse, could have its grain exports upended by Western sanctions.
While there have not yet been global disruptions to wheat supplies, prices have surged 55% since a week before the invasion amid concerns about what could happen next. If the war is prolonged, countries that rely on affordable wheat exports from Ukraine could face shortages starting in July, International Grains Council director Arnaud Petit told The Associated Press.
I really don’t like that “shortages starting in July” part.
Now that exports from Russia will be greatly reduced and exports from Ukraine will be virtually non-existent, some countries will almost immediately be facing extreme stress.
For example, just consider Lebanon. The Lebanese normally get 60 percent of their wheat from Ukraine…
War-ravaged Syria recently announced it would cut spending and ration staples. In nearby Lebanon, where a massive explosion at the Beirut port in 2020 destroyed the country’s main grain silos, authorities are scrambling to make up for a predicted wheat shortage, with Ukraine providing 60% of its supply. They are in talks with the U.S., India and Canada to find other sources for a country already in financial meltdown.
Very high food prices caused (contributed to – Ed.) riots all over the Middle East in 2011, and now we are moving into a food crisis that will be far greater than anything that we experienced back then.
Things are going to be very challenging in Europe as well, because Ukraine normally provides almost 60 percent of the corn that Europeans use…
Ukraine supplies the EU with just under 60% of its corn and nearly half of a key component in the grains needed to feed livestock.
Meanwhile, crops all over the world are in surprisingly poor shape because weather conditions have been so strange.
Earlier today, I was stunned to learn that it is being projected that China’s winter wheat crop could be “the worst in history”…
The condition of China’s winter wheat crop could be the “worst in history”, the agriculture minister said on Saturday, raising concerns about grain supplies in the world’s biggest wheat consumer.
A limited supply of soft white wheat, the primary type of wheat grown in the Inland Northwest, has helped lead to a six-year low for wheat exports from the United States. That’s according to the USDA wheat report for February. The report also states that 71 percent of U.S. winter wheat is being hit by drought in 2022.
We struggle to feed the entire world even in the best of years, and this definitely is not going to be one of the best of years.
Another factor that is going to drive up the cost of food is soaring energy prices.
Gasoline prices surged to the highest level since 2008 on Sunday, as crude oil supply fears stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine increase the impact on consumers at the pump.
The national average for a gallon of gas hit $4.009 on Sunday, according to AAA, which is the highest since July 2008, not adjusted for inflation. Prices have been rising at a fast clip. Consumers are paying 40 cents more than a week ago, and 57 cents more than a month ago.
Of course the price of gasoline is much higher in some parts of the nation than in others.
The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles County rose to $5.247 on Saturday, but some gas stations in the area have even higher prices.
The Shell gas station located at Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Mid-City was advertising regular unleaded at $6.99 a gallon. The price for premium was listed at $7.29 a gallon.
I suppose that I should stop warning about “seven dollars a gallon” for gasoline, because it is already here. So many of the things that I have warned about have already happened, and things are only going to get worse from here.
In fact, I think that it won’t be too long before some Americans are paying ten dollars for a gallon of gasoline.
Would do you think that will do to our economy?
This war is going to end up deeply affecting every man, woman and child on the entire planet.
If you were waiting for things to “return to normal”, you can stop waiting, because a perfect storm has arrived and things are definitely not going to be “normal” for the foreseeable future.
It’s not often you hear the words “John Deere” and “controversy” together, but that’s exactly what is coming to pass as the agricultural staple looks to debut its first fully autonomous tractor.
Equipped with six pairs of stereo cameras and AI, John Deere’s new 8R tractor can both perceive its environment and navigate, according to a new writeup by Wired. It relies on neural network algorithms analyzing data streaming into its cameras.
In fact, it can even “find its way to a field on its own when given a route and coordinates, then plow the soil or sow seeds without instructions, avoiding obstacles as it goes,” the report says.
This is a far cry from the autonomous tractors available today, many of which can only operate in limited situations.
Jahmy Hindman, Deere’s chief technology officer, said at CES 2022: “It’s a monumental shift. I think it’s every bit as big as the transition from horse to tractor.”
The benefits of such tractors are obvious: they could help lower labor costs for farmers significantly. The negative consequences around such tractors includes the very same labor that would be threatened from the innovation.
Technical issues with the tractor have “largely been solved,” according to Qin Zhang, director of the Center for Precision & Automated Agricultural Systems at Washington State University.
The question now is whether some farmers find the tractor either too expensive or too difficult to program. And not everybody is on board with the innovation, Wired noted. Kevin Kenney, an agricultural engineer who has criticized Deere’s limits on farmers’ ability to repair their own equipment, says that the tractors could make farmers more reliant on Deere for repairs, similar to the way newer vehicles need to be taken to the dealership more than they used to.
“I’m all for innovation, and I think John Deere is a helluva company, but they’re trying to be the Facebook of farming,” he said.
Its autonomous tractor could just be the beginning, too. Wired says that the introduction of this tractor also “provides a virtuous cycle for training new AI algorithms and developing new products.”
Deere hasn’t disclosed a price for its new tractor yet.
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