New Minnesota co-op wants to profit from getting Kernza wheat in marketplace
Anne Schwagerl, her husband and his parents farm rye, oats and barley on 780 acres near Browns Valley in western Minnesota. This year they’ll harvest a new crop for the first time: Kernza.
“We’re in what I believe is a moderate drought, and all three of those early-season crops are way ahead of schedule — turning brown now, ripening now. We’ll be harvesting rye by the end of the week,” Schwagerl said. “The Kernza on the other hand is still growing. It’s still green.”
Schwagerl is among a small group of organic farmers who gathered Thursday in Madison, Minn., to officially incorporate the Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative. They say it’s the first-ever co-op for growers of Kernza, a perennial wheat with deep roots that research has shown can help protect water supplies from nitrates, store more carbon in the soil and reduce soil erosion.
Products made with Kernza aren’t widely distributed yet. But the farmers behind the new co-op aim to cultivate new customers and share information about the most effective ways to plant and cultivate, harvest, store and sell Kernza.
“The farmer who wants to grow this won’t have time to focus on finding and developing markets,” said Carmen Fernholz, a longtime organic farmer who helped organize the co-op and hosted Thursday’s event at his Madison farm. “We said, let’s put our growers together, pull together usable amounts of our crop, and find someone to market it for us.”
The co-op will hire a full-time marketing agent, Fernholz said. Brewers and distillers, bakeries, restaurants and school districts around the state have started showing interest, he said.