KERNZA – Perennial Wheat for a Healthier Planet
80-85% of the world’s plant-based food supply comes from annual plants. Every year, farmers clear their land of competing weeds, sow seeds, grow crops, harvest them – then start all over from scratch the following year. Year in and year out, herbicides are piled on to remove the weeds, irrigation is needed to sustain crops with shallow roots, and valuable topsoil is lost as the ﬁelds are tilled and as they lie empty.
Wouldn’t feeding the world’s population be easier if key crops were perennials that could stay in the ground for many years, sending down long drought-resistant roots that would anchor and replenish the soil? Most of the trees, bushes and grasses in our backyards are already perennials, after all, as are a few of our food crops – including olive and fruit trees, grapes, and asparagus. What would it take to tip the balance more in the direction of perennials?
For four decades, a Kansas-based organization called the Land Institute has been doing just that: working hard to “perennialize” wheat and other staple crops.