Kernza Research Trials to Begin
The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute of East Troy, Wisconsin, is a member of a coalition that recently was awarded a $10-million grant to develop Kernza as the country’s first large-scale perennial-grain crop.
The coalition is comprised of more than 15 institutions, including universities, non-governmental organizations, farmers, bakers and governmental agencies. It’s led by Jacob Jungers, an assistant professor in the department of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota.
Through field trials and on-farm trials the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute will collaborate with partners to develop management guidelines tailored to maximize grain yields in years one through five of the Kernza stand. The institute’s staff will assess environmental-quality impacts of growing Kernza compared to annual grain crops. It also will help to build processing and supply-chain networks to bring Kernza products to grocery shelves and dinner tables.
Recent research on Kernza suggests it has significant environmental benefits and can reduce labor requirements and costs for farmers. Kernza can take up and immobilize soil nitrate and has been observed to reduce nitrate leaching by more than 80 percent compared to wheat and corn, according to the institute.
Kernza’s long roots have the potential to offset greenhouse-gas emissions by storing soil carbon deep below the surface. Kernza produces a grain crop every year. Farmers can harvest a grain product for as many as five years after establishment. Kernza yields just 20 percent to 30 percent of typical wheat-grain yields, but breeders at the Land Institute and the University of Minnesota have made improvements. They expect to continue to close the yield gap, according to the institute.