Perennial Crops Are a Key to Sustainably Productive Agriculture

Agricultural production of grain is central to the global food supply, and grain fields dominate vast regions of the landscape. Despite improvements, grain production still results in soil erosion and loss of nutrients into ground and surface water where they become pollutants. Replacing annual grain crops with perennial plants (which live for several years without replanting) has potential to remedy most of the limitations to sustainability seen in grain cropping systems, while expanding productivity. Currently, policy supports the development of perennial crops, such as switchgrass, that would be dedicated to biofuel production. Such perennial biofuels could protect soil and water, but may have unintended consequences as they compete for land on which to grow food. A better solution is to develop perennial crops that produce food for human consumption, with residues available for biofuel.