SALINA, Kan. — Wes Jackson, co-founder of The Land Institute, will step down as president next June. That point on the calendar marks Jackson’s 80th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the Salina, Kansas-based nonprofit organization devoted to developing an alternative to current destructive agriculture practices by advancing perennial grain crops and polyculture farming solutions.
The organization’s board of directors has begun a national search for a successor.
Jackson said his resignation as president should not be seen as full retirement. He plans to continue working with The Land Institute and promoting natural systems agriculture and other environmental issues.
The Land Institute was established on the banks of the Smoky Hill River southeast of Salina in June 1976. Jackson was struck by the dichotomy created with the development of agriculture that replaced perennial plants with annual plants, which require not only continual tillage but also heavy applications of chemicals and fertilizers. Natural ecosystems are based on perennial plants, the enduring roots of which help build healthy soil and protect it from erosion. When he first published on the need to pursue what has come to be known as natural systems agriculture, Jackson said the conversion to perennial-based grains could take 50 to 100 years. He says today that work is ahead of schedule.
Scientists at The Land Institute, along with colleagues elsewhere, have demonstrated that modeling agriculture after the prairie and other natural ecosystems significantly reduces the need for tillage and chemicals, improves water efficiency, and protects and enriches soil, which Jackson describes as more important than oil.
Angus Wright, chairman of The Land Institute’s board, said Jackson “has created a new vision for agriculture that is truly revolutionary in its implications and carried that vision far toward fruition.”
The Land Institute employs 29 year-round workers and additional seasonal employees. On staff are seven scientists, who are breeding perennial wheat, sorghum and oilseed crops and working with nitrogen-fixing legumes to provide fertilization for the mixed-crop fields.
The organization has an annual budget of $5.3 million, most of which is raised from a national constituency of individual donors and supporters. Its 16 board members hail from 11 states. Assets, which include 691 acres of Kansas land, research labs, breeding nurseries and a greenhouse, total $17 million.
Jackson said he is pleased that natural systems agriculture is evolving into a global movement, allowing The Land Institute to build collaborations with universities, governments and research organizations on six continents to pursue its mission. Among those collaborations is a new agreement with the Malone Family Land Preservation Foundation that established a 15-year, independent Perennial Agriculture Project that dovetails with The Land Institute research.
With the organization having a strong financial footing, seasoned and creative staff and global recognition, this is an auspicious time to turn over the reins, Jackson said.
The selection of a new president is headed by a board-appointed committee, which has retained a San Francisco, Calif., executive search firm, California Environmental Associates, to run the recruitment. Wright, of Sacramento, Calif., chairs the selection committee.
“As Wes at age 80 is ready to turn over the presidency to someone else, we on the board are searching for a person who is ready and able to pursue the vision of natural systems agriculture and perennial polycultures with the same energy, insight, and dedication as Wes has done for forty years,” Wright said.
# # #