Transforming Agriculture, Perennially


Lee DeHaan

Director of Crop Improvement/Lead Scientist, Kernza® Domestication Program

A native of southern Minnesota, Lee currently lives near Salina. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, with majors in Biology and Plant Science. Lee was awarded a Master of Science and a PhD in the areas of Agronomy and Applied Plant Science from the University of Minnesota. Lee provides leadership for the effort to develop intermediate wheatgrass into a perennial grain crop, which is marketed as Kernza®. The program now has collaborators working at institutions around the United States, as well as in Canada and Europe. Read Lee’s “Interview with a Plant Scientist”.


What drew you to work at The Land Institute?
Developing a successful new perennial grain crop is one of my life goals. When I was looking for a place to begin this work, The Land Institute was the only place to be able to dedicate full-time effort to perennial grain breeding. It has been an honor to be able to collaborate within the intellectual home for perennial grain research with colleagues that are not only smart and creative, but also share the passion for the work. The people here at The Land bring joy to each day.

What has been your proudest moment at The Land Institute?
I love to see plants we have developed growing in farmers’ fields and producing food that people eat. When you select plants to mate generation after generation, you begin to feel that these families of plants are in some strange way your adopted children. It is really exciting to see them out in the world on their own living healthy and productive lives!

What would people never guess that you do as part of your role?
We are always working to come up with creative solutions to the challenges resulting from attempting to grow and collect data from thousands of plants per year. One technique we came up with was to use clothing dye to color 25,000 food skewers blue. We then stuck them in the soil with transplants so that a robotic mapping device could identify the location of each plant.

What Land Institute perennial crop do you look forward to eating most, and how would you prepare it?
I’m looking forward to deep frying some Kernza® doughnuts in a big pot of silphium oil.

Authored or Co-authored Scientific Publications

Agricultural and Biofuel Implications of a Species Diversity Experiment with Native Perennial Grassland Plants
Genome Evolution of Intermediate Wheatgrass
Harvested Perennial Grasslands Provide Ecological Benchmarks for Agricultural Sustainability
Illinois Bundleflower Genetic Diversity Determined by AFLP Analysis
Increased Food and Ecosystem Security via Perennial Grains
Insights from Evolutionary Biology
Missing Domesticated Plant Forms: Can Artificial Selection Fill the Gap?
New Roots for Ecological Intensification
Perennial Cereal Crops: An Initial Evaluation of Wheat Derivatives
Perennial Food Security
Pipeline for Grain Domestication
Progress in Breeding Perennial Grains
Prospects for Developing Perennial Grains
Reflective Plant Breeding Paradigm
The Strong Perennial Vision: A Response
Wild Plants to the Rescue

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