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Perennial Wheat Could Reduce Nitrate Levels in Minnesota Groundwater

Publication: KNSI AM 1450/FM 99.3

Author: Dene Dryden

(KNSI) – A recently developed crop has the potential to reduce the impact of nitrate leaching from farm fields into water supplies.

Kernza wheat, or intermediate wheatgrass, is different from other types of wheat. While most grain crops are annual plants, Kernza is a perennial; because it’s designed to live year-round, its roots grow deeper into the soil, says Nathan Drewitz, a University of Minnesota extension educator. Drewitz’s work focuses on crops grown in Stearns, Benton and Morrison counties, and he says a few producers in the area have tried out Kernza.

“They tried it pretty early on and definitely have received mixed reviews,” Drewitz said. “It’s right in concept. As things were improved, I think it will be come harder and harder to say no to that, especially if we’re able to get yields up as well as make it a little easier to manage.”

Besides being grown for grain and forage, Kernza could also be used as a way to reduce nitrate levels in groundwater systems. The Star Tribune reports that Kernza planted around Minnesota water wells with higher quantities of nitrates reduced those nitrate levels dramatically.

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