‘We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities,’ argued Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute, and Wendell Berry, farmer and acclaimed writer, this week in the New York Times.
Jackson and Berry point out that soil is as much a nonrenewable resource as oil is, and that it is in fact much more valuable as it has no technological substitute. Therefore, agricultural practices which use and abuse soil are highly dangerous and immediate action should be taken to halt them.
‘Agriculture has too often involved an insupportable abuse and waste of soil, ever since the first farmers took away the soil-saving cover and roots of perennial plants,’ they write. ‘Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice.’
In addition to the problem of soil loss, the industrialization of agriculture has polluted soil through the use of toxic chemicals, now commonly present in our farmlands and streams.
The duo’s key argument is that land rehabilitation will require a significant increase in the use of perennial plants, and that the most immediate way of doing this is to go back to crop rotations that include hay, pasture and grazing animals.
Through increasing the use of a mixture of grain-bearing perennials, we can better protect the soil and substantially reduce greenhouse gases, fossil-fuel use and toxic pollution.
Research in Canada, Australia, China and the United States over the past 30 years suggests that perennialization of the major grain crops like wheat, rice, sorghum and sunflowers can be developed in the foreseeable future.
While it is recognized that many farmers and consumers are already making important changes in the production and marketing of food, Jackson and Berry argue that a US national agricultural policy that is based upon ecological principles is essential.
The New York Times