Polyculture Farming: Is It Better Than Monoculture?

Polyculture Farming: Is It Better Than Monoculture?
Contributor
Contributor
External Guest Writer
July 15, 2022

What Is Polyculture Farming?

Polyculture farming is planting multiple crops of different species in the same land to closely mimic natural ecosystems. Also known as intercropping or double cropping, polyculture farming methods consider plant diversity in the farmland in increasing better quality crop yields.

A polyculture garden would have two or more plant species that grow alongside each other. Polyculture farming is a common practice in both urban and commercial farms as plants are grown simultaneously on the same piece of land. This method enhances the diversity in farmland, as well as creates additional income streams with different crops.

Polyculture farms employ other agricultural techniques to sustain the farm, such as the crop rotation system, multiple cropping, alley or row cropping, and cover cropping to prevent soil erosion.

How Does It Work?

The polyculture system follows the idea of companion planting, where different plant species grown alongside each other may create a symbiotic relationship that would help deter pests, improve soil fertility, or grow bigger, better yields. The crops share resources like moisture and nutrients in a balanced manner.

Farmers would cultivate different types of plants closely together to create a mutualistic ecosystem within the farm. The plant species are specifically chosen for their beneficial properties, such as the use of mint plants to deter slugs and other pests from leafy greens such as lettuce and cabbages.

The majority of polyculture farms would have one main crop, which is often winter wheat crops, corn crops, or soybeans. They may choose one crop to introduce into the ecosystem, such as cover crops to preserve soil quality, or choose multiple crops that would be beneficial to other plants as they grow.

The Pros and Cons of Polyculture Farming

Pros

Polyculture techniques are perceived to have positive effects on crop growth, soil health, and pest control without much human interference as the garden mimics the natural environment of the plants. Polyculture farming advantages include:

  • Greater Crop Diversity
  • Reducing Soil Erosion and Preserve Soil Health
  • Economic Growth through Added Income Streams
  • Sustainable Agricultural Method
  • Competition of Crop Species
  • Control of Pest Populations

One of the major benefits of polyculture agriculture is the introduction of diverse species of arable crops growing on the same field, thereby increasing the diversification of the farm. Depending on the plant species, this diversification may lead to increased crop yields with higher nutritional values, and act as a form of natural pest control.

The diversification of crops grown in one piece of land also creates additional revenue streams as growers may opt to sell more than just one crop. Erosion-resistant plants grown in the field will also prevent damage to the soil surface due to wind and water erosion, and will preserve the nutrients in the soil to support larger yields.

Competition of crop species may encourage plants to grow thicker roots and dense foliage, as well as increase fruit yield as crops attempt to dominate the cropland against other plants. This type of competition may seem counter-intuitive, but will help create healthier plants.

Cons

Polyculture systems may also have their flaws. Polyculture gardening may spread diseases and pests that are common among several crops and plant species, wiping out the entire farm in the process. Plant species that are more susceptible to certain diseases may spread pathogens or pests to hardier plants.

  • Spread of Disease and Pests
  • Close Monitoring and Plant Management
  • Requires the Use of Equipment

Polyculture farming requires a more efficient irrigation system as well, which will need various farming equipment to properly manage plant growth and moisture. Multiple plants may start to crowd each other, and suffocate other plants through the roots, which is why close monitoring and plant management is a must.

Is Polyculture Better Than Monoculture Farming?

Is planting multiple crops instead of a single crop better? - That will depend on the end goal of a farm. Polyculture farms meant for profit may benefit from the diverse production systems that create different products the farm can offer, such as the three sisters of crops known to be lucrative and mutually beneficial: beans, corn, and squash.

Farms that aim to prevent erosion may be able to preserve the soil health and minimize the use of fertilizers by planting cover crops, such as the case with the 7-layer forest garden. This system uses tall trees to provide shade and wind cover for plants below, while dwarf trees and herbaceous plants stabilize the soil structure.

Polyculture farming is generally more preferable over monoculture farming, which has its own sets of advantages and disadvantages. Polyculture farming methods provide advantages that monoculture systems cannot, and many farmers swear by the method.

Evidence suggests that polyculture benefits more than just soil and plant life. Switching from monoculture farming to polyculture methods have shown beneficial activity to birds in industrial oil palm plantations, creating abundant resources for animal life in these farms. Polyculture, in this case, improved biodiversity in the area, encouraging rich flora and fauna species to thrive.

Utilizing the Growing Season

Multi cropping systems utilize the growing season, particularly in areas where harvest periods are limited. The advantages of polyculture farming greatly outweighs the pros of monoculture farming, which is why many growers prefer the former as their gardening strategy. Polyculture gardening is a step closer to permaculture, and may create a sustainable ecosystem in farmlands.