A small number of crops are dominating globally. And that's bad news for sustainable agriculture

phys.org | 2/6/2019 | Staff
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A new U of T study suggests that globally we're growing more of the same kinds of crops, and this presents major challenges for agricultural sustainability on a global scale.

The study, done by an international team of researchers led by U of T assistant professor Adam Martin, used data from the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to look at which crops were grown where on large-scale industrial farmlands from 1961 to 2014.

Regions - Crop - Diversity - North - America

They found that within regions crop diversity has actually increased—in North America for example, 93 different crops are now grown compared to 80 back in the 1960s. The problem, Martin says, is that on a global scale we're now seeing more of the same kinds of crops being grown on much larger scales.

In other words, large industrial-sized farms in Asia, Europe, North and South America are beginning to look the same.

Monocultures - Crops - Numbers - World - Martin

"What we're seeing is large monocultures of crops that are commercially valuable being grown in greater numbers around the world," says Martin, who is an ecologist in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at U of T Scarborough.

"So large industrial farms are often growing one crop species, which are usually just a single genotype, across thousands of hectares of land."

Soybeans - Wheat - Rice - Corn - Examples

Soybeans, wheat, rice and corn are prime examples. These four crops alone occupy just shy of 50 per cent of the world's entire agricultural lands, while the remaining 152 crops cover the rest.

It's widely assumed that the biggest change in global agricultural diversity took part during the so-called Columbia exchange of the 15th and 16th centuries where commercially important plant species were being transported to different parts of the world.

Authors

But the authors found...
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