Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

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Perennial Intermediate Wheatgrass Efforts Advance

Publication: Capital Press

Author: Matthew Weaver

Minnesota researchers are working to boost the yields of perennial intermediate wheatgrass, a forage crop. James Anderson, a project leader and professor at the University of Minnesota, calls it a “perennial cousin” of wheat, with similar properties. “Wheat was made evolutionarily by three other grasses that crossed naturally, and the same thing happened to intermediate wheatgrass,” he said.

However, he said, in wheatgrass three different grasses were involved, but they’re still in the same grass family. Intermediate wheatgrass can’t be milled into the same products as wheat, but Anderson said a 50% blend with wheat can be used for bread or beer. The researchers are using Kernza, the trademark name of the grain developed by the Land Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Salina, Kan. The institute is also working on perennial wheat, rice, sorghum and oilseeds.

“It does fairly well in year one, then we see a little drop-off in year two and a big drop-off in year three,” Anderson said. “With a perennial, you want to get three or four good years out of it before you have to rotate to a different crop.”

The crop can yield 500 to 800 pounds per acre in the first year. Anderson would like to reach more than 1,000 pounds per acre for at least three years. The biggest demand is for organic Kernza.  Anderson estimates the crop sells at $1 to $2 per pound, with organic netting the higher prices. “Right now there’s enough demand there that there could easily be a few hundred thousand acres,” he said.

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