Grain May Take a Big Bite Out of Cropland Emissions
MADISON, Minn. — Carmen Fernholz’s 500-acre farm in Lac qui Parle County is a modest proving ground for what is being heralded as crop agriculture’s best chance to beat back climate change.
Here in the Minnesota River valley, 150 miles west of Minneapolis, Fernholz is growing a new perennial crop called Kernza, whose edible seed, or “kernel,” offers a nutty sweetness sought by artisan bakers and brewers from St. Paul to San Francisco.
But the plant’s greatest value may lie in the soil, where its deep, weblike root system acts as a massive sponge and repository for carbon dioxide, the world’s most abundant greenhouse gas.
The interest behind Kernza is one example of how farmers, food producers and even consumers are redirecting their choices to options that benefit the environment.
Scientists say Kernza, a trademarked hybrid of intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), is so efficient at carbon absorption that its widespread adoption across North America’s wheat belt could reduce the agriculture sector’s CO2 emissions by millions of tons annually while also helping feed a hungry world.