Cross-breeding to boost crop yields
Tessa Peters, The Land Institute’s Director of Crop Stewardship, sat down with Chris Smith from BBC Radio 5 Live’s “The Naked Scientist” podcast to discuss the process of perennializing annual grain crops and the benefits associated with perennial grain adoption.
“One striking aspect about the foods we tend to farm most often is that these plants are all annuals: they grow, fruit and die all within a single season. This means farmers need to re-prepare the soil and re-sow each year, which costs time, fuel and wear on machinery. This in turn adds to the production costs and makes income harder for farmers to predict: fuel and fertilizer prices, for instance, have skyrocketed this year. So wouldn’t it be nice if we could plant these crops once and then harvest from the same plants over a series of years? That’s what an organization called The Land Institute are working on: by breeding high yield modern crops with perennial wild relatives to produce cereals that keep growing year after year.”
“We are trying to go back 10,000 years and say, okay, with new technologies, can we choose different crops or can we choose to cross different crops to make the grains that we’ve currently chosen (like wheat) into a perennial? The reason that we think this is possible is that we can go back and we can look at crops that have been grown by communities for thousands of years and we can say these have been grown primarily as forages, but they have good qualities. We know they can be cultivated, so let’s look and see if we can develop those into a grain crop. Can we make selections for things like bigger seed size and free threshing abilities so that we can make sure we can use them for different things like flour? And we believe that this is possible because we have folks who have selected perennial rice in Yunnan China. They’ve been really successful at producing perennial rice.”