Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Ecological Intensification & Perennial Polyculture

Ecological intensification aims to harness ecological processes in order to keep pests in check, maintain fertility and prevent loss of soil, nutrients, and organic matter. 

Our researchers believe that perennial polycultures offer previously unattainable levels of ecological intensification in agriculture. This contrasts with the advent of chemical-based input intensification that was responsible for increased yields in industrial agriculture last century.

Why Ecological Intensification?

  • Plant diversity is important because it helps to keep populations of plant-loving insects and diseases in check.
  • Diversity also tends to enhance productivity because resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients are used more efficiently when species with different resource requirements grow together.
  • Perenniality is important because when vegetation lives for many years, soils are not only protected against erosion, but they actually build and accumulate organic matter.
  • Deep-rooted perennial plants are able to access nutrients and water that escape the reach of annual plants.
  • With the intercrop systems, called polycultures, The Land Institute hopes to incorporate the benefits of diversity seen in nature.
  • Ecological Intensification harnesses ecological processes to supplant the need for commercial inputs like fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Researchers believe that by combining perennality and diversity in grain agriculture, levels of ecological intensification that were previously unachievable will effectively address many problems inherent in annual agriculture—including severe pest outbreaks, soil erosion, nutrient leakage and soil organic matter loss.

Jarrod Fyie, a resident at The Land Institute, harvests mixed plants sharing a test plot. The biomass will be analyzed as part of a goal to grow multiple crops in the same field.

Ecological Instensification Programs

At The Land Institute, we are working to combine plantings of complimentary perennial species in “intercrops” or “polycultures” and examine the critical functions of natural systems into agriculture: nutrient retention, carbon sequestration, and soil regeneration, and other indicators of soil health.

Additionally, The Ecology Team is learning how we can use crop diversity paired with biological control agents to manage pests and pathogens  in our perennial crop systems.

Join us by supporting this work with a donation to The Land Institute.


Project Team

Tim Crews
Chief Scientist; International Program Director, Director of Ecological Intensification

Ebony Murrell
Lead Scientist, Crop Protection Ecology

Kathryn Turner
Lead Scientist, Crop Protection Genetics

Chase Stratton
Post Doctoral Research Associate, Crop Protection Ecology

Edy Chérémond
Research Technician, Crop Protection Ecology

Madeline DuBois
Research Technician, Ecology

Eric Cassetta
Phenomic Breeding Technician

Yvonne Thompson
Research Associate, Crop Protection Genetics

Related Scientific Publications

Lee DeHaan, Lead Scientist for the Kernza Domestication Program at The Land Institute, and three other Lead Scientists at the organization collaborated with 28 global research partners working with perennial…

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The Land Institute’s Crop Protection Ecology and Perennial Oilseeds teams published a paper assessing the most functional methods for managing Eucosma moth (Eucosma giganteana), a pest that specializes in and commonly…

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