Climate-friendly perennial rice transforming farming
A new article from NPR discusses new groundbreaking research success on Perennial Rice.
Thousands of farmers in China have started to grow a remarkable new version of rice, one that realizes an old scientific dream. It’s a perennial form of the grain, which doesn’t have to be planted anew each season but emerges year after year from long-lived roots in the soil just as many wild grasses do.
Researchers at Yunnan University in Kunming, China, worked for more than two decades to create this rice and have now revealed details of their success in the journal Nature Sustainability. Their perennial rice, they report, requires much less labor, dramatically reducing a farmer’s costs while producing about the same amount of grain. Its long-lived roots may deliver big environmental benefits, too, although scientists need more data to confirm that.
“This is a really big deal. This is a change in the way that we think about agriculture,” says Erik Sacks, a plant geneticist at the University of Illinois who collaborated with the Chinese scientists and co-authored the new study.
Some scientists, including Sacks, are hoping that this version of rice is a foretaste of future perennial crops that will transform agricultural landscapes, preserving vulnerable soil and enriching natural ecosystems. Other scientists are skeptical that this success can be replicated in other major crops such as wheat or corn…
The Land Institute, a nonprofit group in Salina, Kansas, has led the push for perennial crops. It provided financial support for research on perennial rice at Yunnan University and has been promoting a perennial relative of wheat, which it has named Kernza.