The Agenda

Wes Jackson’s Hardy Perennials

Wired recently published mini-profiles of a number of scientists working on ultra-ambitious projects. I was particularly intrigued by Wes Jackson’s effort to domesticate perennial crops:

 

Replanting every season tears up the ground and disrupts delicate soil ecosystems. But don’t blame Big Agriculture or the high-input, high-yield Green Revolution of the 20th century. Blame the Neolithic brainiac who first saved a handful of seeds and poked them into the ground instead the stew pot.

The first farmers domesticated annual grains (wheat, corn, barley) and pulses (lentils, peas). They had the biggest seeds and highest yields, but they’re parasites, returning little to their environment. It’s perennials that build extensive root networks and healthy soil, conserve water, and recycle nutrients. (After harvest in the fall, they grow again from their roots in the spring.) Natural systems function best when diverse species live together. Yet we blanket the Midwest with crops of genetically homogenous corn—and we plow, spray, and fertilize the heck out of them. It’s a system that modern agriculture can’t sustain, says Jackson, “but without a new green revolution, we’ll destroy our soil trying.”

Jackson’s Land Institute in Salina, Kansas has already made progress:

Newly domesticated Kernza, a perennial relative of wheat, should be farmer-ready within a decade, Jackson says, and perennialized sunflower-Jerusalem artichoke hybrids are undergoing work to improve yield. Illinois bundleflower, a native legume, may be one of the first new legumes to be domesticated. 

If Jackson succeeds, he will make a far greater contribution to human progress than any politician I can think of. The barriers to success, however, are considerable. Perhaps the most obvious will be the reluctance of consumers to embrace unfamiliar legumes as new staples. Yet I also imagine that our ability to manipulate the taste and texture of food will also increase markedly in the coming years, and so Kernza-based foods might taste a lot like more familiar fare. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Most Popular

Elections

Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
National Review

Farewell

Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
Elections

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More