Incorporating perennial grains into our food system is an important step towards sustainability. Rather than replanting annual grains every year, the goal of growing perennial grains is to mimic natural systems. Breeding perennial grains has proved challenging for many years and finally The Land Institute has released their greatest success so far: intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum Intermedium). The grain will be marketed under the trademarked name “KernzaTM”. Currently intermediate wheatgrass yields about 25% of annual wheat. In addition to intermediate wheatgrass, we will research and develop cropping practices and market opportunities for perennial rye cv. ‘ACE-1’, which is a cross between perennial wild rye (Secale montanum) and cereal rye (Secale cereal). Compared with annual grains where only about 50% of applied Nitrogen is retained, perennials retain 90% of applied Nitrogen.
Effects of Forage Harvesting on Intermediate Wheatgrass
Our group is partnering with the Land Institute and other researchers across the USA to plant plots of intermediate wheatgrass and collect data on the effects of forage harvest. To determine the major drivers of productivity in intermediate wheatgrass, we hope to explore how harvesting forage affects grain yields. We will manipulate timing and frequency of forage harvest and N application rate, and will measure total plot forage biomass removed, forage moisture, forage quality, and grain yield.
Perennial Grain and Legume Polycultures
In addition to this partner-study, we are conducting a separate study to explore companion-planting red clover with intermediate wheatgrass. We want to know if Nitrogen from a legume could supply sufficient fertility for a Kernza crop. Additionally, we will be partnering with local farmers to test growing perennial grains on sloped and erodible land.