Wheat, forever? Perennial wheat crops may end the era of monocrops, topsoil runoff, and aquatic dead zones
Kim Carlson, Culinate
Here’s an entwined pair of modern food-related problems: First, high-output annual monocrops — such as wheat — take nutrients from the soil but don’t restore them. Farmers then supplement the soil with fossil-fuel-based fertilizers. Some of the fertilizer, in turn, is rinsed away, sending nitrogen into streams and rivers. The runoff occurs because the soil, which lies bare for much of the winter, has little in the way of naturally occurring erosion control.
Second, hundreds of miles away from the Midwest’s vast monocrops, the nitrogen runoff is at least partly to blame for the giant algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River. When the algae die and sink to the ocean floor, the bacteria that help decompose them utilize all the oxygen in the water, making it impossible for other aquatic life to live. This phenomenon, called hypoxia, is the reason for the Gulf’s massive “dead zone.”
...What are the best ways for fertile farms and not-too-fertile fisheries to co-exist? One scenario is that farmers could plant perennial wheat that needs much less fertilization — if there were such a thing.
(7 Aug 2007)
More on the perennial wheat movement in this long article, Full Circle by Tim Steury or in my interview with Jerry Glover of the Land Institute. -AF
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