How Scientists in Kansas and Missouri Are Exploring a New Frontier in Agriculture
The potential footprint of Kernza is indeed dramatically different than that of domesticated wheat. The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, thinks Kernza and plants like it could be one possible solution to myriad global environmental and food insecurity issues. Chief among them: In just 32 years, without major changes to our farming and agriculture systems, scientists estimate that we’ll be facing a worldwide food crisis.
Currently, the global population is around 7 billion people. By 2050, scientists calculate that the number will spike to almost 10 billion. That’s also roughly the maximum number of people that Earth can feed with our current agricultural system.
“The constraints of the biosphere are fixed,” wrote Harvard University sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson in his 2002 book, The Future of Life. “The bottleneck through which we are passing is real. It should be obvious to anyone not in a euphoric delirium that whatever humanity does or does not do, Earth’s capacity to support our species is approaching the limit.”
Introducing perennial plants like Kernza, which are far less destructive to the environment than annual crops, is only the first phase of The Land Institute’s project. The ultimate goal is to take these perennials and grow them in fields that resemble natural ecosystems, as opposed to the monoculture, or single species, style of farming that’s pervasive in agriculture today. It’s an incredibly ambitious aim – essentially drafting a new vision for farming that’s not yet been formally explored in our history. Like any new, uncharted frontier, it’s filled with uncertainty, risk and no one clear path forward.
If it works, though, the decades of trial and error, of successes and failures, will certainly be well worth it, for both the health of the planet and its people.