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The Land Institute and Natural Systems Agriculture

The Land Institute has worked for over 20 years on the problem of agriculture. Our purpose is to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops.

Natural Systems Agriculture is a new paradigm for food production, where nature is mimicked rather than subdued and ignored. Because we are located in native prairie, we look to the prairie as our model for grain crops. As a result, we are investigating the feasibility of perennial polycultures or mixtures of perennial grains.

The functions of a natural system can be achieved by mimicking its structure. We believe that with additional research, an agriculture that is resilient (and therefore productive over the long term), economical (the need for costly inputs would be significantly diminished), and ecologically responsible is well within reach. The first impetus to search for a new agriculture was soil loss and soil pollution. Agricultural chemicals poison our soils and our waters and harm people. Most importantly, a quarter to a third of our topsoil is gone 200 years after opening this country to agriculture.

Natural Systems Agriculture would leave the ground unplowed for years and use few or no chemicals, solving many environmental problems at their root. Land-based natural ecosystems, nearly all of which are comprised of perennial plant mixtures, efficiently utilize available resources and thereby achieve high levels of plant productivity while supporting critical ecological functions for a given environment. Since its inception some 10,000 years ago, agriculture primarily features the opposite: annual plants grown in monocultures. Of particular concern, all of our major grain crops are annuals grown primarily in monocultures. Grain crops comprise two thirds of global cropland and provide a similar portion of our daily caloric needs.

The primary mission of The Land Institute is to employ our understanding of natural ecosystems to address the problem of agriculture while maintaining the high grain yields necessary to support an expanding human population. The primary focus of our immediate research is to perennialize important grain crops which will eventually be grown in a manner more similar to that of natural plant communities than current crop fields.

Short Course, Natural Systems Agriculture - May 26-28, 2006

Staff scientists will lead an intensive weekend exploration of The Land Institute's work in developing an agriculture patterned after natural ecosystems.

The course will be held May 26-28, 2006 at the institute, outside Salina, Kansas. There is no tuition, but students are responsible for their travel and accommodations. Successful applicants will receive directions and a list of motels. There is free camping on the grounds.

For more information about The Land Institute, visit their informative website:

For more articles about CONSERVATION & GARDENING

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Saving Topsoil
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Walk Gently with the Earth
Weather and Temperature are Linked to Landscaping

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America's Ecosystems
California Poppy Reserve
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