Behold Kernza: Could this wheat save the planet?
“The problem that agriculture has faced for 10,000 years is it started with the wrong hardware,” said Fred Iutzi, president of The Land Institute, a research organization in Salina, Kan. He was referring to the fact that all of the grains we grow, which make up the bulk of the calories we consume, are annual plants. They have to be replanted every year, which requires tilling the soil and losing a bit of topsoil. That’s all right for a while, but if you do it often enough, your land becomes useless, people go hungry and your civilization crumbles. In fact, some people theorize that soil erosion was a major contributing factor to the fall of the Roman empire.
Even with modern no-till methods and other conservation procedures, we lose about half a millimeter of topsoil every time we plant.
Perennials, on the other hand, which regrow every year, can actually build topsoil. Their roots burrow long and deep into the ground, loosening the soil and, as a bonus, sequestering carbon, where it adds to soil’s fertility, instead of keeping it in the air, where it contributes to global warming.