Land Institute

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Land Institute

Founded in 1976 by Wes and Dana Jackson, the Land Institute is both an independent agricultural research station and a school devoted to exploring and developing alternative agricultural practices. Located on the Smoky Hill River near Salina, Kansas, the Institute attemptsin Wes Jackson's wordsto "make nature the measure" of human activities so that humans "meet the expectations of the land," rather than abusing the land for human needs. This requires a radical rethinking of traditional and modern farming methods. The aim of the Land Institute is to find "new roots for agriculture" by reexamining its traditional assumptions.

In traditional tillage farming, furrows are dug into the topsoil and seeds planted. This leaves precious topsoil exposed to erosion by wind and water. Topsoil loss can be minimized but not eliminated by contour plowing , the use of windbreaks, and other means. Although critical of traditional tillage agriculture, Jackson is even more critical of the methods and machinery of modern industrial agriculture, which in effect trades topsoil for high crop yields (roughly one bushel of topsoil is lost for every bushel of corn harvested). It also relies on plant monoculturesgenetically uniform strains of corn, wheat, soybeans, and other crops. These crops are especially susceptible to disease and insect infestations and require extensive use of pesticides and herbicides which, in turn, kill useful creatures (for example, worms and birds), pollute streams and groundwater , and produce other destructive side effects. Although spectacularly successful in the short run, such an agriculture is both nonsustainable and self-defeating. Its supposed strengthsits productivity, its efficiency, its economies of scaleare also its weaknesses. Short-term gains in production do not, Jackson argues, justify the longer term depletion of topsoil, the diminution of genetic diversity, and such social side-effects as the disappearance of small family farms and the abandonment of rural communities.

If these trends are to be questionedmuch less slowed or reverseda practical, productive, and feasible alternative agriculture must be developed. To develop such a workable alternative is the aim of the Land Institute. The Jacksons and their associates are attempting to devise an alternative vision of agricultural possibilities. This begins with the important but oft-neglected truism that agriculture is not self-contained but is intertwined with and dependent on nature. The Institute explores the feasibility of alternative farming methods that might minimize or even eliminate the planting and harvesting of annual crops, turning instead to "herbaceous perennial seed-producing polycultures" that protect and bind topsoil. Food grains would be grown in pasture-like fields and intermingled with other plants that would replenish lost nitrogen and other nutrients, without relying on chemical fertilizers. Covered by a rooted living net of diverse plant life, the soil would at no time be exposed to erosion and would be aerated and rejuvenated by natural means. And the farmer, in symbiotic partnership, would take nature as the measure of his methods and results.

The experiments at the Land Institute are intended to make this vision into a workable reality. It is as yet too early to tell exactly what these continuing experiments might yield. But the re-visioning of agriculture has already begun and continues at the Land Institute.

[Terence Ball ]



The Land Institute, 2440 E. Water Well Road, Salina, KS USA 67401 (785) 823-5376, Fax: (785) 823-8728, Email: thelandweb@, <>

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Land Institute

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