July 22, 2009

A 50-Year Farm Bill?

Chris Stevens

Chris Stevens

Communications Director

Center for a Livable Future

The Washington Post’s Jane Black wrote a great Q & A piece in today’s paper with Farmer-Writer-Academic Wendell Berry; Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute,; and Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Center fellow and president of the Stone Barns Center. The three had traveled to DC to promote an ambitious proposal to legislators for a new form of food policy in the shape of a 50-year farm bill.

“The plan asks for $50 million annually for plant breeding and genetics research,” and “puts forward a new vision of agriculture, one that values not only yields but also local ecosystems, healthy food and rural communities,” writes Black in the piece, “3 Wise Men, Planting Ideas Where It Counts.”

Says Jackson of the 50-year farm bill: “The idea begins with acknowledging that nature covers much of the land with perennials, and agriculture reversed that thousands of years ago. In our modern times, we’ve offset the consequences with management techniques and fossil fuels that are nonrenewable and contribute to greenhouse gases.”

Black asks Kirschenmann about the approach of using Genetically Modified Plants (GMOs) to feed a growing population. “If you think about it, that approach really isn’t working here,” he notes. “If it weren’t for subsidies, farmers wouldn’t be able to buy the technologies that are supposed to save us. How are African farmers going to afford the technologies?”

Could inside-the-beltway thinking grasp something in a 50-year interval? Both Jackson and Kirschenmann believe so, citing Washington’s apparent ability to tackle long-range issues like climate change and population growth. “They have to extend the horizon. So we think the time is right to add agriculture to that.”

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