Agriculture was a key piece for the settlement of the human being and for the self-sufficiency of the populations. Thanks to a cultivation of the land for the growth of plant species, it has been possible to create various optimized techniques thanks to the different types of cultivation. One of them is the polyculture. It is a way of growing vegetables that gives certain advantages and benefits to the world of agriculture.
In this article we are going to tell you everything you need to know about polyculture, its characteristics, advantages and benefits.
In order to explain what the characteristics of polyculture are, we must also mention those of monoculture. Monoculture, as the name suggests, refers to the cultivation of a single species, plant life. That is, it is an agricultural activity that is totally involved in a plant species or variety that grows it in a large area. Conversely, polyculture refers to the variety of different species in a field. The species can have different proportions but all of them have the necessary care for their correct growth and development.
The main characteristic of polyculture is the diversity of species involved in the agricultural process. Monocultures imply planting extensions that have the same morphology and genetic characteristics of the same crop, so there is no variability. When we see an agricultural land with polyculture, a great morphological and genetic diversity can be observed that is represented in the different individuals that are used for agriculture.
Normally, monoculture is usually much more automated since machinery can be used to provide the necessary nutrients since they are all the same species and will require the same. It also requires less labor, while polyculture is usually carried out in a more traditional way with more manual labor by man, although thanks to technology there are also automated polyculture plantations.
Examples of polyculture and monoculture
Before analyzing what are the advantages of polyculture, let’s see some examples of both:
- Examples of monoculture: legumes, peanuts, oats or barley are usually grown individually in a field. They are usually large tracts of land dedicated solely to this crop.
- Examples of polyculture: It is usually subsistence agriculture, since what is left over goes to trade and they are usually agricultural systems with a garden model where multiple species are grown such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, etc.
Advantages of polyculture
If we analyze the advantages of both types of systems, we can see that both have benefits and advantages. Each one has a different objective and the main advantage is that each of its characteristics can be optimized with a clear knowledge about it. The first agricultural system has the advantage that they can have a higher overall production. And it is that it can generate food in large quantities due to the large extensions of land that it covers with the main objective of satisfying demand in the short term. All these production figures make it possible to reduce the cost of the same so that not so much labor is spent when there is machinery.
Furthermore, polyculture has some well-marked positive aspects in the ecological sphere. While several species are used for planting, all the nutrients that are present in the soil are adequately used, especially if suitable specimens are used that provide a certain canopy. One of the environmental advantages of polyculture is the reduction of soil erosion since the plants act as a motivator for rain while the leaves that fall due to plant residues serve to enrich this environment.
Places with polyculture are usually make better use of available resources such as water, soil, light, as long as appropriate sets of species are used. It usually encourages the increase of local biodiversity, increasing the number of species throughout the system. All this also induces suitable habitat for the growth and development of the natural enemies of certain crop pests, so the incidence of pests and diseases in the sown species is much lower. With this, it is possible to carry out a biological or natural control if the need to implement chemicals, so the products obtained from this type of harvest are much more nutritious and healthy.
Finally, some research has shown that a higher yield can be obtained from the polyculture area, as long as the appropriate species are chosen. The only thing to keep in mind is that the extensions of land are smaller and the yields are usually obtained in the long term.
As you might expect, there are also certain downsides to these types of cultivation. The most relevant for monoculture is that they degrade the environment to a great extent. And it is that they overexploit it each crop cycle in addition to using more chemical clothing to control the existence of pests and diseases and their expansion. The products obtained may have some effects on health or have somewhat more unfavorable implications for food health. It also seriously affects the soil since by sowing and developing only one type of vegetable on the same soil tends more to its progressive degradation.
Certain amounts of salts tend to accumulate, affecting soil fertility and long-term erosion. In the case of polyculture, the main disadvantage is that the work becomes more rigorous since there are more types of plants involved in the crops. Previously a correct study must be carried out on the combinations of species to be used in order to optimize the yields of the plots to be used.
The intercropped polyculture alternates the species that it sows in the same territory so that the soil does not have excess pressure on the use of certain nutrients. The polyculture technique is also carried out in the aquaculture territory with the breeding of various species of fish in ponds for future commercialization.
I hope that with this information you can learn more about polyculture, its characteristics and its advantages.