Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Land Institute: Solving the 10,000 Year Old Problem with Agriculture

Humans have been engaged in agriculture for thousands of years, and we have always cultivated annual crops. This is because annual crops are more likely to produce a higher yield of crop, because they have put less energy into their root systems and stalks. Instead, their energy has gone to their offspring, of their fruit. Though this is a very beneficial system to humans, it is not very sustainable. The Land Institute in Kansas is a non-profit, research and education facility that is working towards a more sustainable agricultural system. It was founded in 1976 by Wes Jackson, an agro-ecologist. He is shown bleow in a conference, speaking about sustainable, non-conventional agricultural. 

The difference in root systems of perennial
and annual wheat.
The Land Institute is looking to for a perennial solution to the year-old problem that agriculture faces: how do we have a perennial crop that also has high yields? The problem is that most species are either K-species or R-species. K-species have an emphasis on growing great root systems with little energy going into reproduction, while R-species have more emphasis on offspring and less on living long lives. Many of our staple and cash crops today are R-species. They create many fruits but focus little on creating root systems that will last for more than one growing season.

Wes Anderson and others at the Land Institute are researching a way for crops to both have strong systems, making them last from season to season, and have high reproduction, causing a create crop yield. Check out more about what they're doing here:

This is creative because it is looking at agriculture in a way that has never really been looked at. In many interviews with him and in some of his books, he talks about where he got the inspiration for this idea. Insight is defined as "when a new interpretation of a situation or the solution to a problem suddenly springs into conscious awareness, seems obviously correct, and is accompanied by a surprising and emotional experience known as the 'Aha phenomenon' " (Kaplan & Simon 1990).

He saw the problem that modern agricultural practices bring, such as water use, high carbon emissions, and depleting soil nutrients. Monsanto and other big companies have privatized many seed strains, leaving farmers dependant on them year after year. Creating a perennial strain of these stable crops would give farmers another layer of independence in their own farm. 

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