Part of my recent work has involved writing about the (over-)enthusiasm for perennial crops in the permaculture and alternative farming movements. I’ve published an article called ‘The strong perennial vision: a critical review‘ in the journal Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, which outlines my thinking on this topic. The perennial grain breeders from the Land Institute have published a critical response to my paper.
I’ve written/am writing a number of articles and blog posts about this debate with the Land Institute, and about various aspects of perennial/annual cropping and sustainability more generally. They’re gathered together and annotated on this page for ease of reference along with some comments on the debate by other people.
At present, an introduction to the topic is available in my blog post ‘The strong perennial vision: Small Farm Future versus the Land Institute‘, and I provide a brief summary of my arguments and those in the Land Institute’s response in another blog post, ‘The strong perennial vision: critical review and critical response‘.
Probably the main point of contention between my position and the Land Institute’s is around the ecological factors affecting seed allocation in plants of different life history patterns – an issue I examine in this post. Ecologist Professor Ford Denison has written a blog post about this aspect of the debate – an interesting contribution from a neutral perspective.
There are wider issues about growing cereals for export on the world’s fragile steppe or prairie biomes in order to feed growing urban populations who, at least to some extent, have been cleared off rural land that could have been farmed more sustainably. I look at these in my blog post ‘Of perennials, cereals and civilisations’, and also in an article I’ve written for The Land Magazine called ‘The dearth of grass’ (The Land, Issue 18, Summer 2015, pp.34-7) which is available from my publications page. There’s a danger that an uncritical adoption of the Land Institute’s vision for a productive but more sustainable prairie grain agriculture will have the paradoxical effect of supporting a less sustainable, import-dependent global food system.
In my post Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde I address the Land Institute’s criticisms concerning research priorities for sustainable agriculture, and draw a few overall conclusions about the debate.
Professor Phil Grime, whose CSR framework I draw upon in my analysis, has briefly commented on the debate in an email to me, available here. Doug Cattani, a perennial grain breeder based at the University of Manitoba, has also written an interesting commentary on the paper, which is available here. And Brian Cady intriguingly discusses the possibility of ‘splitting the difference with somewhat perennial grains’ here.
I’ve written an article ‘Perennial cropping’ in Permaculture Magazine (No,85, 2015, pp.57-61) which examines the practical implications of my analysis for farmers in temperate climates.
As other resources become available, I’ll add them to this page.