For 10,000 years, humans have disrupted natural ecosystems and kept them in a continuous state of disruption in order to feed our populations. Increasingly, the scale of those agricultural disruptions threatens to permanently degrade the ecosphere upon which we depend.
Annual crops are commonly maintained by yearly tillage as well as pesticide and fertilizer applications, all of which are energy intensive, biologically destructive, and polluting. Tillage leaves soil exposed to erosion, and land use is second only to power generation in creating greenhouse gases.
We believe it doesn't have to be this way.
Perennial grains, legumes, and oilseeds represent a fundamental shift in modern agriculture, holding the potential for truly sustainable production systems.
Diverse perennial grain crops are the building blocks for a new, regenerative agriculture, allowing us to achieve levels of soil protection and ecological intensification unattainable in our current agriculture based on annuals. Grown in mixtures, perennial crops are better at managing nutrients, fertility, and pests, while requiring fewer chemical- and carbon-intensive inputs. They provide year-round cover, shielding soil from erosion, absorbing moisture, and providing habitat, including for the microorganisms and invertebrates critical to healthy soil. And perennial crops can sequester more atmospheric carbon than annual crops.
From test plots to greenhouses filled with many species, we select wild perennials with the best crop potential, or cross annual crops with a related wild perennial species.
We analyze thousands of plants for desirable crop traits, crossing the most promising plants in search of more desirable characteristics in every generation. Then, with the help of over 40 collaborators on six continents, we test various species in different soils and climates.
We do this season upon season, year after year, in collaboration with scientists around the United States and the world, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Mali, Uganda, and Sweden.
Today, we have proof of concept in the form of Kernza®, the first perennial crop from The Land Institute’s work to be introduced into the agriculture and food markets. Our researchers are currently working on others, including perennial legumes, perennial wheat, perennial rice, perennial sorghum, and wild sunflower, with more to come.
The Land Institute’s journey since 1976 has been one of imagination and discovery defined by steady, cumulative progress. And it’s not over yet. We invite you to join us on this journey to transform agriculture, perennially.