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Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby Tanada » Sat 02 Jun 2018, 07:54:02

vox_mundi wrote:Perennial wheat is an ecologist’s dream. Soon it may be what’s for dinner.

The grain is Kernza, a new breed of wheat. Unlike the usual varieties, it is perennial, which means it grows back in subsequent years rather than being sown each spring. That matters because over time, the plant develops a deep, dense root system that helps to build healthy soil and to keep carbon in the soil, a counter to climate change. No wonder perennial grains have long been the holy grail for a certain set of agroecologists (visionaries or eco-weenies, depending on your perspective).

The commercial availability of Kernza is something of a dream come true for the academics who have long evangelized perennial grains. Here in the United States, its main proponents are at the Kansas-based Land Institute, where it was developed. Co-founder Wes Jackson first became an advocate of perennial crops in the 1970s after noting a difference between the soils on agricultural lands and those in the native tallgrass prairies.

Over the years, the Land Institute has worked to develop a variety of perennials: rice, which is now being tested in China; sunflowers, for oil; and sorghum. Kernza was spearheaded by plant geneticist Lee DeHaan, who as a child in the early 1980s became captivated by Jackson’s vision and joined the Land Institute in 2001. The plant is a strain of intermediate wheatgrass, a distant cousin of what we know as wheat. (The name, which is trademarked by the Land Institute, is entirely invented, a combination of “kern” from kernel and “za” from Konza, the Native American word from which Kansas was derived.)

From an environmental perspective, Kernza does all the things that annual wheat does not. It sends a cloud of roots as deep as 10 feet into the ground. That underground network holds soil in place, which prevents erosion, and can quickly absorb water and nutrients. According to one study, second-year Kernza reduced soil moisture, and it reduced nitrate leaching by 86 percent or more compared with annual wheat. (Nitrate, a soluble form of nitrogen, can poison groundwater and is one of the chemicals responsible for creating the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zones, low-oxygen areas where fish and other marine life cannot survive.)
Left to its own devices, intermediate wheatgrass funnels energy into its roots and leaves, rather than its seed, which is the part we eat. So DeHaan has worked hard to coax Kernza to create a larger one. Over the last six years, DeHaan has doubled the size of the seed. But it is still only one-quarter the size of a conventional wheat berry. Kernza also has less gluten — the levels are akin to what you might find in barley flour — and that makes it a challenging ingredient for bread, which is how many of us consume much of our wheat.

Image

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinopyrum_intermedium


Land Institute: Kernza® Grain: Toward a Perennial Agriculture

Got Kernza®? Want Kernza®?

If you are a farmer interested in growing Kernza or a baker, miller, brewer, or chef interested in purchasing Kernza seed or flour, please contact Plovgh.

Plovgh (pronounced “plow”) contracts with The Land Institute to help match Kernza consumers with farmers so our scientists can focus on research. All farmers growing Kernza® enter into a license agreement for use of the Kernza® trademark in the sale of the grain.


Progress is being made in turning Kernza into a real crop grown by real farmers instead of just research institutions.

Kernza Update

On a splendid May day, Valentin Picasso is visiting tests of a crop called kernza at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station north of Madison. As a perennial, kernza must survive the winter, and that is what the assistant professor of agronomy at University of Wisconsin–Madison is checking.

Developing kernza is part of a vision to shift an agricultural economy reliant on “till-plant-harvest and repeat,” toward a one-time tilling and planting, followed by harvesting forage and grain for years or decades. The forage – hay — can be baled or fed directly to cattle in the spring and fall.

Annual crops require annual tillage, which often leaves the soil bare all winter and into the spring. Although no-tillage techniques and cover crops can provide some soil cover, perennial crops and forages are the ultimate long-term solution to soil erosion, Picasso says. Once planted, perennial kernza covers soil year-round without the cost of further tillage.

At more than 300 small plots at Arlington, Picasso is testing kernza with variables such as planting dates, seed varieties, and the effect of leguminous companion crops like alfalfa.

Kernza, generically intermediate wheat grass, was developed by the Land Institute, a Kansas environmental non-profit that trademarked the brand “kernza.” Those who sell seeds under that name must pay royalties; seeds of the same crop, sold as intermediate wheatgrass, are exempt from royalty.
An auspicious plan

The interest in intermediate wheatgrass, and other perennials like silphium and lupine, reflects a small-scale effort to reverse what Picasso wryly calls “a little mistake at the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago.” The decision to domesticate annual plants instead of perennials can leave bare soil prone to erosion and allow soil and nutrients to run off in the rain, causing water pollution.

To date, kernza breeders at the Land Institute and the University of Minnesota have used time-tested approaches such as selecting and replanting the largest seeds, to turn an idea into a crop. No genetic modification technologies are used.

Although the grain yield of the new crop cannot compete with corn or soybeans, its yield has tripled in just 10 years, Picasso says, to a maximum of 900 pounds of grain per acre in Wisconsin fields.

“Kernza is only in the fourth cycle of selection, and we have been selecting the major crops for at least 5,000 years,” he says. “In another 10 years, we expect to see a much higher yield that will look more like a traditional crop, with the advantage of being perennial.”

Kernza leaves and stems have a high nutritive value for cattle, especially in spring and fall, which makes it more valuable to farmers as a dual-purpose (grain and forage) crop.

Picasso is working on several research questions about the new crop:

Forage quality and production;
Companion crops: Most of Picasso’s kernza plots live amidst alfalfa or another legume, to further shelter the soil, supply nitrogen to the kernza, and avoid a monoculture friendly to pathogens and insects.
Grain production: Even though kernza survives at least 20 years, grain production tapers off quickly after the first year or two. Picasso is looking for a strategy to sustain the yield.

Kernza does not flower and set seed the first year, because it needs to endure winter before flowering, but that could change in a crop that is still genetically malleable. While leaving the farm, Picasso points out where he gathered seeds from a hundred-odd plants that, strangely, did produce grain the same year they were planted. He is planting these unusual seeds in a new experiment aimed at developing a crop that can produce grain even before a winter.

Forages are extremely valuable, but their economic contribution is difficult to measure, Picasso says. The total value of marketed hay and related products in Wisconsin was $816 million in 2017, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, “but that does not come close to the full value of forages, as this is only forage that is sold. Most forages are grown and fed on the same farm, and therefore not counted.”
Forages supply dairy, beef feed

A comprehensive estimate of the value of forages would consider that at least half of dairy and beef feed comes from hay such as alfalfa. In reality, Picasso says, “If you want to estimate the value, you should also add the economic value of clean water, and maintaining soil and biodiversity.”

Although Picasso says the kernza project is “in the infancy of research,” he adds that, “Wisconsin’s climate and soil are ideal, and the research benefits from a strong tradition of agricultural research.”

At field days at the Lancaster and Arlington Research Stations, Picasso adds, “farmers are really excited about kernza. There’s already some on-farm research, which I think will grow in the near future. We still have dairy farmers who know how to grow and graze crops, who know how to produce forage and grain, and are open-minded about trying new things.”
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby Ibon » Sat 02 Jun 2018, 08:03:45

In 1982 I visited Wes Jackson within a year or two after he started the Land Institute. I was living in Salina Kansas back then and heard about his vision of perennial crops and was intrigued enough that a couple friends and I went out to see him and he gave us an hour tour and shared his vision. That was 37 years ago! Really amazing that the Land Institute has persevered all these years and may one day yield (no pun intended) viable perennial grain.
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby dohboi » Sat 02 Jun 2018, 08:12:21

I'm jealous, Ibon!

But kernza is already available. A local coop brewery just made a beer with it.
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby Ibon » Sat 02 Jun 2018, 08:22:42

dohboi wrote:I'm jealous, Ibon!

But kernza is already available. A local coop brewery just made a beer with it.



I meant "viable" in the economic sense as a major crop replacement to annual wheat requiring tilling of the soil.
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby dohboi » Sat 02 Jun 2018, 08:58:05

Ah, yeah, it would be nice to have numbers on this. It sounds like, since the yields still drops off significantly after the first few years, there will be a while to go before this is widely adapted.

It does sound like some major food companies are buying 'significant quantities' of the grain already:

"General Mills agrees. The food giant has committed to buying a significant quantity of Kernza for use in its Cascadian Farm line of organic cereal products"

(I wish they would give specific amounts so we can know what is meant by 'significant' here. Anyone with more specific data, please do share!)

http://www.startribune.com/a-new-grain- ... 450447673/
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby asg70 » Sun 03 Jun 2018, 01:19:57

Good news. Someone should work on developing a hardier version of quinoa, which is the grain everyone wants to eat these days. Hard to grow outside of its original andean climate.

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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby dohboi » Sun 03 Jun 2018, 12:19:21

"Developing kernza is part of a vision to shift an agricultural economy reliant on “till-plant-harvest and repeat,” toward a one-time tilling and planting, followed by harvesting forage and grain for years or decades. The forage – hay — can be baled or fed directly to cattle in the spring and fall."

From the article above
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby Ibon » Sun 03 Jun 2018, 14:51:07

pstarr wrote:
asg70 wrote:Good news. Someone should work on developing a hardier version of quinoa, which is the grain everyone wants to eat these days. Hard to grow outside of its original andean climate.

Nobody 'developes' these grains, they are heirlooms chosen for their intrinsic properties.

Though for the life of me I don't see how anyone chooses quinoa. It has no taste and is soggy.


Quinoa is one of my favorite grains and is delicious. Never look at any food as a replacement to something else otherwise you will be disappointed. Vegie burgers suck for example.

Quinoa is wonderful when you use that sogginess to its advantage and not try to make it some kind of cool rice. Recipes that use polenta would be great with Quinoa for example.
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby asg70 » Sun 03 Jun 2018, 21:37:20

pstarr wrote:Though for the life of me I don't see how anyone chooses quinoa. It has no taste and is soggy.


Well, gee, if you don't like it then nobody else should value it. Narcissism 101.

pstarr wrote:Nice idea but it doesn't work. Too bad


Yep always throw your hands up and proclaim that it "doesn't work", because the doom train must NOT be stopped.

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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby Tanada » Fri 08 Oct 2021, 21:22:44

Kernza crop part of Minnesota farmers’ eco-friendly lineup



MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — Don Wyse has long been an evangelist for perennial crops. The University of Minnesota professor, who leads the U of M Forever Green Initiative, now thinks the potential of those crops is beginning to be realized.

“It took us 30 years to get to this point, but we now have what I call real crops that have real possibility for the marketplace and for planting by farmers,” Wyse said. “And it’s really, really exciting.”

Perennial crops can help reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and they fit well with the regenerative agriculture movement that focuses on soil health.

The largest crop yet of Kernza was recently harvested. Research shows Kernza improves water quality by reducing fertilizer pollution of water, and it can efficiently store carbon in the soil, helping reduce carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

It also requires less fertilizer and pesticide than many traditional crops, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

“It’s basically continuous living cover, protecting soil and water, enhancing soil health. That’s the basis of all 16 crops that are being developed in the Forever Green Initiative,” Wyse said.

Kernza is just the first of 16 perennial crops being developed at the U of M as part of the effort to make Minnesota farms more environmentally friendly.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have worked with the Kansas-based Land Institute, to improve Kernza genetics.

There are still challenges for farmers and plant breeders. Kernza yields tend to decline after two years, limiting how long farmers can keep the crop on a field.

Wyse is confident that problem will be resolved as new varieties are developed.

The U of M released a new Kernza variety last year and a second variety is slated for release in 2023.

Farmers aren’t yet busting down the door to grow Kernza, but there’s a steady stream of people calling, wanting to learn more about the crop, said western Minnesota farmer Carmen Fernholz, an early adopter who first grew Kernza on his farm in 2011.

Kernza is a cousin of wheat, developed from a perennial grass. Researchers tout its sweet, nutty flavor for use in baking, beer and a cereal product General Mills plans to soon have on the shelves at Whole Foods.

Fernholz recently sold a semiload of the grain to a food company. He’s part of the new Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative, created to help farmers produce and market the grain.

“It’s certainly not to the scale that we intend to take it over the next few years,” Fernholz said. “But to say that the market is developing, yes. To say that we can grow lots and lots of acres at this stage of development, no.”

And that’s always the challenge with a new crop. Farmers want to know there’s a market before they plant, but to expand markets, you need more crop to sell.

Fernholz will expand his Kernza acres next year. As an organic farmer, he believes in the environmental benefits of perennial crops, and it helps his bottom line.

“If we can continue to achieve the numbers that we are as far as marketing the Kernza, and the yield that we’re getting, it will definitely be profitable,” he said.

The drought this year reduced his Kernza yields somewhat, but the deep-rooted perennial plant generally fared well in the dry conditions.

“Relative to a lot of the other small grains, it appears that it was less impacted,” said U of M researcher Jacob Jungers. “The plants look healthier, generally, they were a little bit greener, and look less drought-stressed than some of the annual small grain crops.”

Researchers are still analyzing this year’s crop yields to learn more about the drought impact.

Kernza is very small in terms of crop production with about 4,000 acres grown nationwide. Minnesota is the leading producer with just over 1,300 acres.

Jungers believes it’s now realistic to double Kernza production each year.

“There’s a tipping point in terms of acreage in the state and in the nation,” he said. “Once we achieve that sort of tipping point of acreage, then there’s going to be enough supply for the larger companies, for national-scale product.”

“We’re also getting significant international interest,” said Colin Cureton, director of adoption and scaling for the Forever Green Initiative. “So, there’s really a need to grow to meet that. How do we export this product from Minnesota to the world is a big and exciting question.”

Kernza is still a niche crop, and researchers say it will likely never replace mainstay grains like wheat.

But this a good time for perennial crops to be taking off, Cureton said. There’s growing interest among farmers in soil health, carbon storage and regenerative agriculture, and crops like Kernza are a good fit. There’s also growing demand from consumers for sustainable agriculture.

Cureton compares perennial crops to the development of wind and solar energy decades ago.

“And so that’s what’s really exciting about these crops, which are really in their early stage,” he said. “I feel like with these crops, we’re kind of where renewable energy was about 20 years ago, but we’re making really rapid progress.”

As more Kernza is grown, researchers are learning more about the benefits. Kernza stover, the stalks and leaves left in the field after harvest, makes a good quality livestock feed.

And researchers have just begun to explore the potential benefits to wildlife from having a perennial crop on the land, Jungers said.

Wyse is ready for the expansion of the next perennial crop — an oil seed called camelina, which he expects to reach 2 million acres of crop production in the next five years.

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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby Tanada » Fri 08 Oct 2021, 21:31:04

Perennial Grains Start Appearing on Grocery Store Shelves


Kernza, a perennial alternative to wheat, has a lot of potential.

“Daddy, you never eat cereal,” said my youngest the other day, surprised to see me stepping away from my usual breakfast fare.

“My love, this isn’t just any old cereal,” I responded, mysteriously.

Let me explain: Sometime around 2008, I saw Wes Jackson, co-founder of The Land Institute, give a keynote presentation at a sustainable agriculture conference in South Carolina. The topic of that presentation was perennial grains. And Jackson zeroed in on one particular grain—Kernza—which the Land Institute was developing as a perennial alternative to wheat.

The potential, he argued, was amazing:

It could prevent soil erosion
It could reduce the need for agricultural chemicals
It could reduce the need for fossil fuel-intensive tilling and replanting
It could sequester vast amounts of carbon

Jackson also wowed us with what appears to be somewhat of a Land Institute party trick—displaying a real-size comparison between the root system of annual wheat, and that of Kernza, side-by-side. Here’s what that looks like on Twitter:

It’s not hard to see how full commercialization would result in significantly more carbon going straight underground. Yet despite all that promise, Jackson tempered his talk at the time with a sobering reality: Kernza was at least several decades away from commercial deployment.

Fast forward just over a decade, however, and things appear to be changing. Katherine has already written about how Patagonia Provisions is now making beer from Kernza, and the list of commercial collaborations on the Kernza website (yes, it has its own website) includes bakeries and cafes, restauranteurs, breweries, and at least one company selling flour, waffle mix and raw grains direct to the consumer. Now it also includes Cascadian Farms breakfast cereals.

And that’s how I came to be munching on a limited edition “Climate Smart Kernza Grain” cereal from the company, picked up at my local Whole Foods and developed as part of a collaboration between the Land Institute and Cascadian Farms’ parent company General Mills. As always, we need to be careful about consumer-driven efforts to ‘vote with our dollars’ and save the world, one purchase at a time. I tend to believe, however, that this type of early-stage corporate collaboration is a little different. Here’s how Cascadian Farms described the significance in a press release:

“The length, size, and long life of the roots enable the grain to provide measurable soil health benefits and drought resistance while preventing soil erosion and storing critical nutrients – potentially turning agriculture into a soil-forming ecosystem. This partnership with General Mills and investment by Cascadian Farm, promises to be a significant boost, helping take this planet-friendly grain to the next level of viability as a food ingredient. Additionally we anticipate it will allow researchers to more precisely measure the impact of widespread Kernza® perennial grain cultivation on carbon sequestration.”

And let’s be clear: When I say "early stage," I do mean that this is still in a very early stage. There are currently only something like 3,500 acres of Kernza in cultivation anywhere. Yet that’s exactly when relatively small investments can make all the difference in persuading farmers to try something different. This support from brands looking to boost their “regenerative agriculture” credentials is especially valuable right now, given that there’s still a long way to go before Kernza can compete acre-for-acre with conventional wheat. (According to Tamar Haspel of The Washington Post, per-acre yields are currently about one-quarter of that from wheat.)

Whether or not Kernza will ever achieve yields comparable to wheat remains to be seen. And whether it can scale up fast enough to put a significant dent in carbon sequestration is a question that nobody can answer just yet. What I find encouraging about this story, however, is examples of companies making very specific, strategic investments that provide ‘air cover’ for innovation to continue. Whether that’s Simple Mills funding regenerative agriculture projects, Lotus Foods promoting climate- and water-smart rice cultivation, or businesses not just claiming soil carbon sequestration—but actually measuring it—I’m pleased to see a more thoughtful example of what the role of business might be in developing solutions.

As for how that cereal tasted? Well, it tasted like a wheat-based breakfast cereal. Which, I suppose, is exactly the point…


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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby evilgenius » Sat 09 Oct 2021, 05:28:37

Does anybody think it's possible that we could advance far enough that we could, more or less, control the state of hydration of our lands? Climate change is, after all, a right proper incentive to gain control over the climate.

Should this happen, I can see political decisions being made over whether certain areas will be hydrated. It's nice to see that choices will exist for people who find themselves on the "wrong" end of those sorts of decisions. It sounds like a crop taken from a perennial filed wouldn't yield as much, but that it would continue to yield when annual approaches didn't pay off. If a person is right for those sorts of constraints, they can enjoy nature in a different way than other people in their society.

It takes all kinds of people to have a society. There will always be those who are risks takers, and adopt plants like this right away. They will enjoy the lowest yields. But they weren't into it entirely for the yield. They prove something. As things develop, the yield will go up, some. Over time, it will probably go up more than we might think. I wonder if seeds of that new higher yield can then be spread on existing fields, to bring yield up, or if old fields will have to be torn up and resown?

I also wonder what kind of equipment is necessary to work a perennial crop? Is it the same equipment? If it's not, is the new equipment cheaper? Because, if it's cheaper, then a farmer can really turn a small window into a much larger opportunity.

I don't doubt this will work. I had a teacher in one of the classes I was in when I went back to school a few years ago who knew something about this. He was excited because I asked him about it in class one day. He said we could work it out, but that it was going to take some time.
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby Subjectivist » Sat 09 Oct 2021, 12:09:51

evilgenius wrote:Does anybody think it's possible that we could advance far enough that we could, more or less, control the state of hydration of our lands? Climate change is, after all, a right proper incentive to gain control over the climate.

Should this happen, I can see political decisions being made over whether certain areas will be hydrated. It's nice to see that choices will exist for people who find themselves on the "wrong" end of those sorts of decisions. It sounds like a crop taken from a perennial filed wouldn't yield as much, but that it would continue to yield when annual approaches didn't pay off. If a person is right for those sorts of constraints, they can enjoy nature in a different way than other people in their society.

It takes all kinds of people to have a society. There will always be those who are risks takers, and adopt plants like this right away. They will enjoy the lowest yields. But they weren't into it entirely for the yield. They prove something. As things develop, the yield will go up, some. Over time, it will probably go up more than we might think. I wonder if seeds of that new higher yield can then be spread on existing fields, to bring yield up, or if old fields will have to be torn up and resown?

I also wonder what kind of equipment is necessary to work a perennial crop? Is it the same equipment? If it's not, is the new equipment cheaper? Because, if it's cheaper, then a farmer can really turn a small window into a much larger opportunity.

I don't doubt this will work. I had a teacher in one of the classes I was in when I went back to school a few years ago who knew something about this. He was excited because I asked him about it in class one day. He said we could work it out, but that it was going to take some time.


You can already buy lawn grass seed in 50 pound bags from specialty growers so equipment to harvest these Kernza seeds must be easy. As I understand it the Kernza seeds are bigger than lawn grass but smaller than wheat or rye seeds. The farmer interviewed indicated he can harvest them by adjusting his combine to work with the smaller seeds.
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Re: Kernza aka Perennial Wheat

Unread postby careinke » Sat 09 Oct 2021, 13:11:56

dohboi wrote:"Developing kernza is part of a vision to shift an agricultural economy reliant on “till-plant-harvest and repeat,” toward a one-time tilling and planting, followed by harvesting forage and grain for years or decades. The forage – hay — can be baled or fed directly to cattle in the spring and fall."

From the article above


Good points, the crop can serve different purposes as it matures. I would look at mob grazing the field during the third year with cattle followed by fowl then replanted.

The animals repair and prep the soil one year out of three while providing valuable fats, protein's, and other useful stuff. I wonder if this has been tried? As a perennial grass, it may not even need to be fully reseeded after being mob grazed. After all, who reseeded the prairies after the buffalo came through?

Other than calories through carbs, I wonder if Kernza has any other nutritional value? Need to check.

Personally if it were my Kernza

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