Ever wonder what the world would be like if our staple crops were perennials rather than annuals? Well Wes Jackson and others at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, have been working for over 30 years to “change the way the world grows food.”
They are developing a perennial wheat (the right hand plant in the photo), a cross between conventional wheat and a wheat grass perennial. Compared to the conventional annual winter wheat), this perennial could have huge implications for soil conservation and would require dramatically less energy inputs, which will help reduce the cost of food. Annual crops, with their shallow root systems, rely heavily on synthetic fertilizers. Every year about half of this fertilizer washes away into rivers and, eventually, to oceans leading to large areas of hypoxia in coastal areas, e.g. the “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Annual cropping systems leave the soil surface bare for the non-growing season part of the year, whereas a perennial would continue to hold the soil year round and not require tillage.
In addition to wheat, they’re also breeding perennial sorghum, sunflowers, and legumes.
Learn more at their website: www. landinstitute.org Also consider attending their Prairie Festival, held annually at the end of September at their headquarters in Salina, KS. The weekend is full of talks by a diverse group of fascinating people thinking about agriculture, often featuring Wendell Berry. I can vouch that it’s a great time!