Future of Nebraska agriculture is wildly different, speaker says
By Reed Samson, NewsNetNebraska
Evolutionary biologist Wes Jackson challenged the way agriculture is produced in the grain belt of America last Friday, saying its success has been our failure.
“We live a good life,” Jackson told the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Great Plains Studies. “I mean, who could ask for more?”
Jackson said the ideal is to be saving the ecosphere, but our lavish lifestyle allows “ripping the tops off of mountains, drilling for oil, and fracking” to remain legal.
Jackson founded The Land Institute, which is dedicated to solving the 10,000-year-old problem of agriculture by domesticating perennial crops that will reduce the negative impact on the environment.
Jackson showed a picture of corn and declared it the number one enemy of the region. The annual crops grown in Nebraska and surrounding areas are meant to receive and hold water for a long period of time.
But, using a tremendous amount of fossil fuels and water we can grow crops that are unnatural to their environment which produce much more grain.
“Annual plants are poor micro managers of water,” he said. “But, 70 percent of our calories are grains from those plants.”
Jackson quoted a colleague from UC Berkeley on why we demand so much from nature.
“Our problem is we came as a poor people to a seemingly empty and rich nation,” he said.
He added that people have built the ideal that technology will save us so why practice restraint on consumption of fossil fuels.
“We use energy slaves now instead of people,” Jackson said.
To combat the high energy requirement and loss of soil caused by annual crops, Jackson and scientists at The Land Institute are experimenting with a perennial wheatgrass they have named Kernza.
Jackson held up a banner that showed a size comparison between a wheat plant and the Kernza plant and the root size of the Kernza was considerably larger.
The plant wouldn’t require any nitrogen input, would prevent soil erosion and is a natural legume. The only requirement would be sunshine and normal amounts of precipitation. Jackson and his team challenge the idea that nature needs to be subdued or ignored in order to get a meal.
“The future of agriculture in Nebraska is perennials managed with fire and grazing,” Jackson said.