Fine-tuning a new crop that saves soil, produces grain and forage for cows
On a splendid May day, Valentin Picasso is visiting tests of a crop called kernza at the Arlington Agricultural Experimental Station north of Madison. As a perennial, kernza must survive the winter, and that is what the assistant professor of agronomy at University of Wisconsin–Madison is checking.
Developing kernza is part of a vision to shift an agricultural economy reliant on “till-plant-harvest and repeat,” toward a one-time tilling and planting, followed by harvesting forage and grain for years or decades. The forage – hay — can be baled or fed directly to cattle in the spring and fall.
Annual crops require annual tillage, which often leaves the soil bare all winter and into the spring. Although no-tillage techniques and cover crops can provide some soil cover, perennial crops and forages are the ultimate long-term solution to soil erosion, Picasso says. Once planted, perennial kernza covers soil year-round without the cost of further tillage.