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Prairie Pioneer Seeks To Reinvent The Way We Farm

  1. Oct 21, 2009 #1

    Astronuc

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    Agriculture and gardening are two keen personal interests. I happened to catch this story on NPR.

    Prairie Pioneer Seeks To Reinvent The Way We Farm
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113766846
    by Richard Harris

    Wes Jackson's group, The Land Institute, are attempting to cross-breed wild perennials with domesticated food grains such as wheat. The idea is to eliminate the need to plow on an annual basis.

    Great idea!

    Another concept is to use green manures to fix nitrogen, add carbon to the soil, prevent erosion and suppress weeds.
     
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  3. Oct 29, 2009 #2

    Moonbear

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    It doesn't make sense to me. The examples given are of plants that are used in their entirety when harvested...corn and wheat. We use the fruit/grains from them, and then the stalks are used for animal feed. There isn't anything left after harvesting.

    But, unless he can point to a specific variety of plant being developed where a perennial to annual cross has worked and is producing an agriculturally viable product, it's nothing more than wishful thinking. I'm also not sure how they would address issues like weeds in the fields, or trying to fertilize on top of plants already growing. You are still going to lose nutrients every year, because unlike perennial flowers that just recycle themselves into the ground, any crop is going to have at least some part of it harvested and remove those nutrients from the land. And, how you get rid of the perennials if you decide to grow a different crop the following year.

    It sounds like a plan hatched by someone who has very little real world understanding of agriculture, or science. It doesn't even seem all that ecologically sound, since it would require harvesting only portions of the plants, and therefore reducing the amount of product yield someone can get from a field...only the wheat grain, but not the hay or straw?
     
  4. Oct 30, 2009 #3

    Ouabache

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    I like this idea too. From my reading of the article, I note they have chosen crops where the grain/seed is the only part harvested. (wheat, sunflower, sorghum). They mention corn in the article with regard to how present agricultural practice is damaging to soils.

    Kernza is a proposed new variety, a perennial grass crossed with wheat (annual). It yields grain comparable to wheat, that can be ground into flour. Wes Jackson, the lead scientist at the Land Institute, has enlisted a team of PhD plant breeders to make the same transition to a number of crops including wheat, sorghum and sunflower.

    Regarding weeds; perennial grasses once established, outcompete weeds. Perennial prairie grasses are deep rooted and continually bring up nutrients from the subsoil strata. As successful hybrids continue to be made with crops that are harvested for their seed; there is plenty of organic matter that remains, the soil is undisturbed curbing erosion and nutrients are replenished by absorption through the roots. If you return livestock to the farm, such as dairy and beef cattle, they may be allowed to graze for part of the season or in rotation years. In their excursion across the fields, they spread their manure, adding a secondary source of fertility and organic matter. American bison accomplished this same task on the original tall and short grass prairies. So these crops (just like alfalfa and asparagus) are meant to grow many seasons before rotation to another crop. When you decide it is time to rotate, you would just plow them up.

    So http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wes_Jackson" [Broken] is the real deal. He was raised on a Kansas farm, has formal agricultural training (M.A in Botany, PhD in genetics) and was a professor at Cal State- Sacramento.

    Where hay and straw are also harvested from crops, perennial grasses already fill that niche. They may be cut and baled. Nutrition is replenished from absorption by their deep root system, organic matter may be supplemented by applying animal manures.
     
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