Perennializing Major Crops

Wes Jackson talks of transiting to sustainable culture in terms of moving from annual crops to perennials.

"If we can save our soils we can work through the problems to come".

Before humans invented agriculture, 95 per cent of the Earth’s ice-free surface was covered by diverse mixtures of perennial plants: forests, prairies, wetlands, et cetera. Today, nearly 40 per cent of that land is devoted to agriculture, most of it sown to uniform stands of annual crops that die each season after harvest and must be re-sown.

That “clearcutting” at the soil surface and regular die-out of the roots below makes it impossible for healthy, durable, resilient ecosystems to become established either above or below the surface. Soil erosion, water contamination, and biodiversity loss are the inevitable result.

From "You can't buy a better agriculture" article

The 10,000 Year Old Problem of Agriculture

Wes Jackson at TEDxOverlandPark

Vídeo de YouTube

Root systems of perennials v. annual (wheat)

What We Need to Know

What We Need to Know to Meet the Sustainability Challenges of the Next Half-Century, a talk by Wes Jackson

Vídeo de YouTube

at 1:05:00 he beautifully explains the nature v. humans nitrogen fixing activities:

Nitrogen fixing bacteria require, at ambient temperature & 4/5th of an atmosphere, with some 21 enzymes (a lot of information) to transform Nitrogen gas (some 78% of air), into ammonia.

Humans, thanks to the Hopper-Bosh process, require some 350 atmospheres & 400C (lots of gas) to do the same thing.   

The industrial system is highly inefficient, the natural systems are very highly efficient.

Use nature's wisdom instead of human cleverness.

Beautifully poetic reference of David (of David & Goliath's fame) at the end, representing the ecological movement.

Brilliant work in terms of climate change & saving soils ... what this doesn't address however, are the nutritional implications of keeping humanity addicted to cereals ...


Wes Jackson, President of The Land Institute, was born in 1936 on a farm near Topeka, Kansas. After attending Kansas Wesleyan (B.A Biology, 1958), he studied botany (M.A. University of Kansas, 1960) and genetics (Ph.D. North Carolina State University, 1967). He was a professor of biology at Kansas Wesleyan and later established the Environmental Studies department at California State University, Sacramento, where he became a tenured full professor.   He resigned that position in 1976 and returned to Kansas to found The Land Institute.

Dr. Jackson's writings include both papers and books. His most recent works, Nature as Measure (2011) and Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (2010), were both published by Counterpoint Press. 

The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge (2008) and Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place (1996), were co-edited with William Vitek. Becoming Native to This Place, 1994, sketches his vision for the resettlement of America's rural communities. 

Altars of Unhewn Stone appeared in 1987 and Meeting the Expectations of the Land, edited with Wendell Berry and Bruce Colman, was published in 1984. New Roots for Agriculture, 1980, outlines the basis for the agricultural research at The Land Institute.