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Monocultures — 3 Reasons to Steer Clear

While a monoculture might sound like the easiest way to address land management challenges, be wary of “silver bullet” solutions. A monoculture is the cultivation or growth of a single crop or organisms. In the case of grasses, they are typically introduced species. It’s tempting to fall for the promise that the “next best grass” will solve grazing needs or that this species of pollinators is the one to bring back all the butterflies.

Monocultures can hinder the long-term goals of a project when relied on too heavily or misused. Rather than a shortcut, proper management and biodiversity are key. There are three reasons not to use monocultures:

  • Cost of inputs
  • Invasive plants
  • Benefits of biodiversity

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Monocultures: Cost of Inputs

Mother Nature hates a monoculture. A large chunk of the inputs and energy used to manage a monoculture are spent in trying to keep it that way. This is a problem because whether in a crop production or a pasture setting, you will have to battle weeds. A weed — defined as a plant out of place — is a key input. In a monoculture such as tall fescue, any plant besides tall fescue is considered a weed. Whether tillage or herbicides are used to control these weeds, there is an added cost.

In a system that uses the benefits of biodiversity, these “weeds” might not be considered weeds. They could actually have a place after the stand is established. They instead may be referred to as forbs and legumes. Many forbs and legumes have higher nutrient value than the monoculture grasses. They also provide pollinator and wildlife habitat, and legumes will fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Most introduced forage species planted as monocultures only produce favorable forage production with the added input of fertilization. This also adds to the cost of production. Of course, a diverse stand of native grass is not a one-size-fits all solution, either. Grazing and haying must be managed correctly to avoid invasion by unwanted forbs and brush.

Monocultures: Invasive Plants

Several introduced grasses planted in monocultures can be considered a weed. Those with the tendency to invade into unwanted areas and across large parts of our landscape significantly reduce biodiversity and impact wildlife and pollinator habitats. Established monoculture pastures prove difficult and costly to convert back into diverse, native growth that requires fewer inputs and provides additional benefits.

Benefits of Biodiversity

Bamert Seed offers several native blends to help achieve a myriad of goals. A diverse mix of grasses, forbs, and legumes in a rangeland, pasture, or cropland situation provides several benefits for the following reasons:

  • The diversity in plant life will attract a diversity of insects and wildlife that will prey on the pest species found in our production systems, leading to a decrease in inputs. 
  • The diversity above ground will lead to a diversity below ground, since the shape and depth of the root systems of the plants and their impact on the soil will differ. These diverse roots will draw nutrients and moisture from different areas of the soil profile during different times of the year based on each individual species’ growth curve, creating the best chance for drought tolerance. 
  • A monoculture in any setting is taking water and nutrients from the same area of the soil profile at the same time. This results in higher competition among plants and will result in fewer available resources. 
  • Monocultures, especially perennial monocultures, do not allow for any flexibility. A pasture or right-of-way with a diverse mix of species will have plants with many different growth curves. It will also have wildlife habitat, pollinator habitat, or grazing throughout all or most of the year. A cropland field, with at the very least a diverse crop rotation, will allow for the capture of most of the same benefits.

Large parts of many states have been planted to monocultures. There will continue to be monocultures that are managed for crop and forage production. Hopefully more and more of these will be managed in a system that includes biodiversity. When we have the opportunity to establish perennial vegetation, these three reasons should help us to understand the importance of biodiversity.

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