Crumb Trail
     an impermanent travelogue
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Saturday, September 06, 2003
 

The Land Institute is interesting. They assert that agriculture is a problem, not that it has problems. The whole idea of digging up natural ecosystems and planting shallow rooted, annual seed bearing plants creates unsolvable problems. It kills beneficial soil, reduces ecosystem resilience, and is subject to erosion, drought and pests. It has been a problem for humanity for 10,000 years that has ruined land all over the planet, wherever farming has been practiced.

The main problem is grains - wheat, maize, rice, oats, soya, barley etc. - which provide 75% of the calories humans consume. They are all shallow rooted annuals that have had their brains bred out of them and so need constant coddling and protection. They are juiced up, chemical dependent freaks that can't survive on their own. They are not just unnatural, they are anti-natural.

TLI seeks to develop perennial grasses and forbs that also bear seed like traditional food grains. They would have deep roots and grow in undisturbed soil rich in organic matter and microbial life, like a natural prairie ecosystem. Deep roots in undisturbed soil would make them drought tolerant and erosion resistant. Invasive annual weeds - the cockroaches and rats of the plant world that have followed humans wherever they have gone to live with them in the environments they create - would never have bare soil to get started.

They are doing some fairly sophisticated plant hybridization crossing annual grains with perennial grasses and forbs to create perennial grain plants. Getting past the tricky early generations which are sterile and then selecting for agronomic characteristics across many generations to arrive at a viable food crop plant is difficult, time consuming and expensive but they insist that they have proven the concept already and are making progress. Their methods don't involve genetic engineering but they do manipulate embryos and use some chemical methods such as pressurized nitrous oxide to cause gene doubling in early crosses.

They have an attractive vision of a new agriculture with perennial grain fields to go along with orchards and vineyards which are already perennial. It would greatly reduce all inputs including labor and energy as well as being more environmentally benign. Farmers wouldn't have to plow and plant each year or cultivate for weed control.

Part of the vision is polyculture, mixed variety grain fields that emulate natural meadows. They would benefit from one another's presence and be less susceptible to diseases and pests. It's not clear how these types of fields would be harvested. I sent them an e-mail and asked about that. Stay tuned.

posted by back40 | 9/06/2003 11:43:00 PM

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