The eco guide to ancient grains


Selective breeding gives the highest yield, but potentially at a price. It’s time to go back to our roots

If you find the whole business of organic too tame, there’s always landrace crops, which are positively subversive. Landrace crop varieties (sometimes known as folk crops) are ancient versions of the standardised crops we rely on today. Genetically variable, these biodiverse cultivars are allowed to grow at will and to cross pollinate. Farmers collect the seeds from successful crops and these become the parents of next year’s varieties. Simple.

If this sounds primitive (it is in fact Neolithic), it makes much more sense than modern agriculture, which is reliant on selective breeds that are addicted to fertilisers. The idea is that the selective breeds give the highest yield when conditions are good. This is a terrible strategy in an era of climate change when conditions are not ideal. Modern agriculture has wiped out almost all original genetic diversity. Ancient cultivars of wheat are used for straw or shoved into seed banks. Proponents of the Real Green Movement want them released into the soil.

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