Kernza® Perennial Grain Sees Early Success with Knowledge Sharing Approach
Salina, Kansas (March 15, 2022) – The Land Institute released the first comprehensive report from Kernza perennial grain growers across the US and Canada. On-farm experimentation with the new grain, supported by agronomic research, development of a knowledge-sharing infrastructure, and community building efforts, helped catalyze early adopter success.
“Researchers provide robust support to growers, processors, and producers, who then share knowledge and data with stakeholders from their hands-on experiences working with Kernza,” says Tessa Peters, Director of Crop Stewardship at The Land Institute. “The report gives us confidence that this cooperative approach is working. It shows that the perennial grain agriculture movement is not only possible but growing.”
Active commercial acres of Kernza total nearly 4,000, a substantial scale up from the estimated 500 acres grown in 2019. Minnesota and Kansas have the most acres, while Montana is emerging as a significant new hub. Despite drought conditions in many primary production areas, the report also shows that yields more than doubled to over 400 pounds per acre compared to 2019 estimates, a considerable increase in three years. Plant breeding continues to improve, with The Land Institute and the University of Minnesota anticipating new Kernza perennial grain seed variety releases in 2023. These new varieties show promising results in research trials with up to a 20% yield potential increase compared with current varieties.
“Kernza perennial grain is a vital part of our long-term growth plan on the farm,” says Montana grower Erik Engellant. “We’ve seen real benefits to our bottom line and improvements to our soil health. Easy access and sharing across the network of Kernza resources and expertise has helped the whole endeavor.”
Kernza has generated much interest from farmers, food and beverage makers, conservationists, and climate activists. The plant grows 10-foot-long roots that help sequester carbon from the air and foster healthy soil and water. Its perennial growth habit builds soil organic matter and promotes biodiversity above and below ground. The flavorful grain also has many uses in food and beverages.
“The University of Minnesota has actively partnered with The Land Institute for over a decade on the advancement of Kernza,” explains Dr. Don Wyse, co-founder of the University of Minnesota research platform, Forever Green Initiative. “Our release of the first national commercial variety of Kernza, MN-Clearwater, in 2019, is now in production in over 1300 acres across Minnesota alone. Support for Kernza here is significant. Recent legislative funding supports growers to plant Kernza in vulnerable drinking water areas to protect community drinking water sources.”
Carmen Fernholz, the President of the Perennial Promise Growers Coop, a newly formed growers cooperative based in Minnesota, agrees with Dr. Wyse. Fernholz was one of the first Kernza growers in Minnesota, planting his first acres in 2011. As a result, he has witnessed the growth of interest and support for this crop first-hand.
“I’m fielding calls from growers across the country, almost daily, who want to know more about how Kernza can fit into their rotation,” comments Fernholz. “These are growers who want to protect their soil and water and want new economic opportunities for their farm and their communities.”
A host of new perennial grain products have come to market recently, including a new Kernza Pils beer and pasta from Patagonia Provisions, cereal from General Mills’ Cascadian Farm, pancake mix from Perennial Pantry, and bread from Doughp Creations and Artisan Naan Bakery. Kernza’s increase in popularity points to a hopeful change for the future, one based on regenerative, climate-smart agriculture.
“After many years of working with The Land Institute developing GRAS status for Kernza, seeking farmers to engage in growing a new crop, developing Kernza products, and working collaboratively to develop infrastructure dedicated to this important work, we are thrilled to see the effects of this collective action reach consumers who are imperative in creating market pull for Kernza and perennial agriculture,” says Birgit Cameron, co-founder, and head of Patagonia Provisions.
The benchmark report will allow stakeholders to create economic and market models to project where the supply of Kernza will be in the next five to 25 years, given breeding yield progress and targets. This data is crucial to supply chain development, helping predict grain supplies and allowing businesses to decide on new product innovations. Policymakers also rely on this data to see the progress and future potential of the perennial grain agriculture programs they support. An excellent example of recent policy success is the adoption of perennial grains into the federal NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program E328C for 2022.
This year Kernza trademark licensees, partners, and collaborators, with support from the USDA KernzaCAP grant, will begin to build a business association to create a stable market, robust grain supply, and greater consumer knowledge. Other initiatives are underway to develop incentives and land access packages for Kernza growers to add new growers from traditionally disadvantaged farmer and rancher groups. In 2023, the USDA will add Kernza’s carbon sequestration potential to COMET-Farm, the federal whole farm and ranch carbon and greenhouse gas accounting system, which will be vital to leveraging Kernza in future climate-smart agriculture initiatives.
ABOUT THE LAND INSTITUTE
The Land Institute co-leads the global movement for perennial, diverse, regenerative grain agriculture at a scale that matches the enormity of the intertwined climate, water, and food security crises. An independent 501c3 non-profit founded in 1976, the organization seeks to reconcile the human economy with nature’s economy, starting with food. Its transdisciplinary team of scientists, together with global partners, are developing new perennial grain crops, like Kernza, and diverse cropping systems that function within nature’s limits and researching the social transformation required for a just, perennial human future.
ABOUT THE FOREVER GREEN INITIATIVE
The Forever Green Initiative (FGI) is a crop research platform within the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota focused on developing crops and cropping systems that provide continuous living cover, ecosystem benefits, and economic return. Forever Green is a collaborative effort that draws on breeding, agronomy, food science, economics, marketing, and additional expertise from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management (CINRAM), and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA); with major funding support from the Minnesota Legislature, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and USDA-NIFA.
Contact: Tammy Kimbler, Director of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org