The Land Institute is changing the agriculture game for a sustainable food future
Given the pitfalls of conventional agriculture and the increasing need to feed a rising global population, it’s clear we need to change how we grow and harvest our food—and fast. Fortunately, companies like The Land Institute are on a mission to replace annual crops with perennial grain crops to help move the agricultural industry in a more sustainable direction.
“The Land Institute focuses on creating diverse perennial grain agriculture systems that involve perennial grain crops, including cereals, legumes, and oil seeds,” says Tammy Kimbler, Chief Communications Officer at The Land Institute.
Conventional farming practices involve intensive single-crop production and heavy-duty machinery that rely on fossil fuels, pesticides, antibiotics, and nitrogen-based fertilizers to yield high production levels. Unfortunately, this reliance contributes to climate change, soil degradation, and pollution.
“[Shifting] needs to work for farmers from ecological, economic, holistic, and social standpoints,” says Kimbler. “A main issue with industrial agriculture monocropping is the scarcity of options regarding what’s grown.”
Besides its environmental impacts, modern agriculture also poses serious health implications:
According to The Land Institute, grains comprise over 70% of our global caloric intake and over 70% of our global croplands. Transitioning to a sustainable perennial agricultural system is essential for feeding a growing population.
Perennial grains are a sustainable solution to the issues surrounding modern agriculture. “By their very nature, perennial crops are regenerative since you plant them once and they grow back on their own,” Kimbler says. “They don’t require replanting or tilling, and the soil remains undisturbed.” They offer several advantages over annual crops:
Additionally, they provide economic stability for farmers by reducing expenses accrued from expensive artificial inputs and operational costs associated with tillage and planting each year.
The Land Institute has created an emerging global network of perennial crops, legumes, and oilseeds grown in the U.S., China, Europe, South America, Australia, and sub-Saharan Africa:
Anne Schwagerl, Vice President of the Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) has been growing The Land Institute’s trademark Kernza® perennial grain on her farm since 2020.
Kernza® has helped to protect her farm’s soil by making it more resilient and preventing erosion from extreme weather events. In turn, this has diversified Schwagerl’s farming operation and reduced the risks from unpredictable weather and climate impacts.
Kernza® accomplishes this by covering the ground, developing sustainable root systems, holding the soil in place, and preventing water runoff through increased water infiltration. In addition, Schwagerl has the added benefit of a grain harvest which she sells on the growing niche small grain market.
Perennial grains are a sustainable solution to the issues surrounding modern agriculture. Moving away from conventional agriculture to a perennial system is our best bet for securing a sustainable and regenerative food future.
To learn more about The Land Institute or donate, visit landinstitute.org.
The Land Institute uses ecological intensification to harness the power of naturally-occurring processes for improved soil fertility, pest control, and loss prevention of soil, nutrients, and organic matter. Ecological intensification replaces man-made inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers while increasing food production and promoting biodiversity.
Researchers at The Land Institute believe perennial grain crops can provide levels of ecological intensification previously out of reach in modern agriculture without the need for the chemical-based inputs that produced the increased crop yields seen in industrial agriculture over the last century.
“Ecological intensification fosters a system of life. It requires breeding the right plants and growing them in the best combinations for the soil type and local ecology to create a sustainable and regenerative system,” says Kimbler. “Soils that have served as the breadbasket in North America for hundreds of years are in decline. We must re-engineer our systems to behave more naturally and ecologically.”