MFAI is the recipient of a $250,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) program for perennial crop development efforts (see USDA’s announcement here: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDANIFA/bulletins/291fdfc). MFAI was a member of a diverse coalition of more than 15 institutions, including universities, NGOs, farmers, bakers, and governmental agencies throughout the U.S., led by Dr. Jacob Jungers at the University of Minnesota, who were collectively awarded 1 million dollars to develop Kernza(R) as the nation’s first large-scale perennial grain crop (see the Land Institute’s page here for more information about Kernza: https://landinstitute.org/our-work/perennial-crops/kernza/). Through field trials on the Institute’s research land, and via on-farm trials, MFAI will collaborate with partners to develop agronomic management guidelines tailored to maximize grain yields in years 1-5 of the Kernza stand, assess environmental quality impacts of growing Kernza compared to annual grain crops like wheat, corn, and soybean, and build processing and supply chain networks to bring Kernza products to local grocery shelves and dinner tables.
Recent research on Kernza in the U.S. suggests that it has significant environmental benefits compared to its annual grain counterparts, and can reduce labor requirements and costs for farmers. Kernza can aggressively take up and immobilize soil nitrate, a common agricultural pollutant of surface and groundwaters, and has been observed to reduce nitrate leaching by over 80%, compared to wheat and corn. Kernza’s long roots have the potential to offset greenhouse gas emissions by building and storing soil carbon deep below the surface. And, because Kernza is a perennial that produces a grain crop every year, farmers can plant once and harvest a grain product for up to 5 years after establishment, reducing spring labor burdens. While Kernza only yields 20 to 30% of typical wheat grain yields, breeding efforts by the Land Institute and the University of Minnesota have already made large yield gains and anticipate to continue to close the yield gap over time.
“MFAI is proud to be a member of an innovative group of researchers, farmers, and food makers investing in improving environmental health by identifying new crops that can reduce tillage, provide habitat, and contribute to nutritious and tasty food products for consumers.” said Nicole Tautges, agroecologist at MFAI. “That being said, we have much to learn about how to produce Kernza at large scales, and much more work is needed on the agronomics to be able to provide farmers who want to grow Kernza with good recommendations.”
Watch out for pictures, videos, and updates on the establishment of Kernza at MFAI, happening this September 2020.