It’s a Small (and Empty) World After All

Monoculture. The first time I heard this term was my first semester in grad school.

It was used to describe what was becoming of coastal plain forests in the south, from Louisiana to Virginia. I’d once gotten out of my car, driving between Auburn and my girlfriend’s home in Biloxi, and walked a few hundred yards into a “pine plantation” to see what was there. It was immensely uninteresting. For hundreds of square miles in south Alabama, uninteresting. A biological desert.

All the plants in a monoculture planting are genetically identical or almost so; they are planted a consistent distance apart in long laser-straight rows on level ground, and every other competitor is killed by herbicides or pesticides.

I thought this was the craziest thing I’d ever heard of, and hey–it was the year of the first Earth Day. My generation “got it” and what was good for the planet’s people and living systems would surely take precedence over what was best for the board of directors of Weyerhaeuser, the only Big Pulp conglomerate that comes easily to mind.

Nope. Monoculture is increasingly the law of the land–if not of the creatures who once lived on and in it.

Loblolly pine. Soybeans. Cotton. Corn. It’s called unapologetically Industrial Agriculture. It is all about mining the soil’s productivity for maximum efficiency and maximum yield (ultimately of profits.) I can’t get a total figure but it would be many millions of American acres planted in onc crop, season after season.

It’s instructive to know how little life is left on these hundred million acres. Cornstalks Everywhere But Nothing Else, Not Even A Bee : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR (from which the “diversity” image above was taken.)

I wondered, back in ’70, about what becomes of a piece of land on which only one crop is intensely planted and from which all those tree-trunk nutrients were removed year after year. Won’t the soil soon be depleted and worthless?

Sure. Weyerhaeuser and their buddies then simply shift their base of operations to the rain forests of South America, where the sudden transition from greatest diversity on the planet to least diversity is just the cost of doing business.

Industrial Agriculture | Union of Concerned Scientists 

We Are What We Eat – Michael Pollan | Center for Ecoliteracy 

Weyerhaeuser’s Evil Vision for the Future » Rainforest Action Network Blog

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. 1975. 37 years ago. How slowly we change direction. But change comes. You have to have a very long view to see it, but it comes.