The First Word: The Wonders of Intercropping

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The first entry in this year’s round of “First Word” submissions comes from Gabby Buzzell. It was nominated by Dr. Patricia Marchesi.

About Gabby’s piece, entitled “The Wonders of Intercropping,” Dr. Marchesi had this to say:

For the assignment, students had to write about a sustainability initiative that could significantly improve the world . They had to pick one from a host of initiatives described in Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Gabby chose to focus on a particular agricultural method called tree intercropping. Her article provides a thoughtful overview of her chosen topic and its importance in today’s farming practices.

All submissions for the “First Word” are also eligible for one of the English program’s annual awards for exemplary student writing.

Gabby Buzzell

Professor Marchesi

ENGL 1101 S

18 September 2017

The Wonders of Intercropping

            Intercropping is important to me because I use it. Our farm in Michigan produces apples, cherries, and alfalfa – which are compatible together. The purpose of intercropping at our farm is to get the most out of crops naturally without the use of pesticides. While some people like myself know about the perils of farming with chemicals, many Americans do not fully understand where produce comes from. While most people know that produce comes from fields, they do not know that these fields are horrible for the environment and the crops that grow in them. American farmers, as well as farmers globally, have adopted an industrial way of thinking. In America, the fields are composed of monocultures, fields of only one crop. American farmers use chemicals on their crops to make them last an unnatural length of time. Although farmers may think industrialized farming is effective, it is not ecologically beneficent. By repeatedly planting and abusing a single crop over a large area, farmers take necessary nutrients out of the soil and make productivity plummet over time. Intercropping, on the other hand, is a natural way of providing crops with healthy amounts of nutrients and allowing those crops to produce large amounts of fruits or vegetables for an increasing population. Currently, only a minimal number of farms use this technique. If farmers collectively adopted the use of intercropping, there would be significant environmental benefits.

Monocropping is thought to be an easier way to farm and to get big produce and a lot of it at one time. Farmers can specialize in one crop, such as corn. He can buy machines to aid in its production and get the most out of his crop without spending more money on equipment needed for other crops. However, such a technique has many dire consequences on the environment. When the monocultures take away all the nutrients in the soil, farmers use harmful chemicals to boost plant growth. These chemicals can further deplete soil nutrients, leach into underground water, or go into the air to become pollution (Patterson). Additionally, monocultures demand significant amounts of natural resources, including water. Unfortunately, it is not a well-known fact that “when small-scale farmers are confronted with industrial large-scale monocultures in their area, they are faced with water and other resources shortages” (Carbon Trade Watch). Monocultures take away from the environment and destroy ecosystems (Mousavi). When land is used for monocultures, for instance, animals and plants native to that area are seen as pests and weeds, and are immediately killed (Carbon Trade Watch). If farmers used a more sustainable agricultural technique such as intercropping, they would save the environment from toxic chemicals, would use less resources, and would give populations more quality produce.

Intercropping has many advantages in that more than one plant can share a field, nutrients are replenished within the soil, and there is a higher yield. Many kinds of intercropping exist, including “strip cropping, boundary systems, shade systems, forest farming, forest gardening, mycoforestry, silvopasture, and pasture cropping” (Drawdown 59). Intercropping allows for a more natural way of farming. Instead of using chemicals to aid plant growth, the crops that are within an intercropped field thrive due to replenished nutrients. Despite trees taking up space for more crops, the crops flourish with trees. When the “nitrogen-rich leaves” drop from the trees, the crops below have no need to compete for essential water and light (Drawdown 59). Consequently, produce yields are much greater than those of monocultures.

Intercropping is a wonderful technique that more farmers should adopt. Consumers can help by supporting organic agriculture and family farms. Eventually, growing consumer demand can force the agriculture industry to shift its direction and practices. More people need to be aware of how monocropping is unhealthy for both the earth and humans. Governments should also step in and help expedite the process of phasing out monocropping. The US government should subsidize intercropping instead of monocropping, since intercropping saves the environment from destructive practices, conserves the earth’s natural resources, and improves soil conditions for future propagations of crops to thrive on. Intercropping is a much better and less harmful way to produce a high quantity and great quality of crops. Until farmers cease dependence on a narrow-minded way of farming and start adopting alternative ways to farm, they will keep contributing to the large and ever-growing pollution that plagues our world.

Works Cited

“Monocultures.” Carbon Trade Watch, September 2017,             http://www.carbontradewatch.org/issues/monoculture.html

Mousavi, Sayed Roholla. “A General Overview on Intercropping and Its Advantages in  Sustainable Agriculture.” ResearchGate, January 2011,             https://www.researchgate.net/publication/220000362_A_General_Overview_on_I            ntercropping_and_Its_Advantages_in_Sustainable_Agriculture

Patterson, Susan. “What Is Monocropping: Disadvantages of Monoculture In Gardening.” Gardening Know How, August 8, 2016, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-            problems/environmental/monoculture-gardening.htm

“Tree Intercropping.” Drawdown. Edited by Paul Hawken, Penguin Books, 2017, pp. 58-    59.

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