The 10,000-year-old problem, according to Wes Jackson, is that “…agriculture in most places is based on practices that use up limited resources. The major grains, like wheat and corn, are planted afresh each year. When the fields are later plowed, they lose soil. The soil that remains in these fields loses nitrogen and carbon.”
He continues to describe the rate of soil loss in the world due to erosion when it is unplanted, and how the soil left under the eroded soil is lacking in nutrients. His solution to this problem is simple: perennials. A perennial is a plant that puts down strong roots into the ground to hold the soil in place and survives year round. Instead of replanting every year, a farmer would plant once and let nature do the rest. In my mind, this makes incredible sense. A person has to wonder why people didn’t think of it sooner. Wes Jackson was inspired by the prairies surrounding his home in Kansas. He knew that the native grasses around his home actually improved soil quality as the years went on, instead of depleting it. The answer to his problem was to begin selectively breeding strains of different crops, including strains of wheat. The main problem he has encountered is in his attempt to change the social norm of what a farm should be. People generally see farms as involving plowing, planting, and harvesting; to begin the cycle all over the next year. People have been farming this way for a very long time. How do you explain to them that one crop can be harvested for many years?
Wes Jackson believes that the path to a better, “greener” world begins with redesigning the way we get our food. I have to agree with him. There’s no point in reducing our CO2 emissions if we’ve lost all our soil and our nutrients.