Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

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Researchers Examine Role of Perennial Crops, Other Practices on Climate Resilience

Publication: Ag Journal

Author: Candace Krebs

A rash of natural disasters, including wildfires, hurricanes and a historically early ice storm, backlit by a contentious election season, are keeping climate change in the headlines, even as agricultural researchers and land managers are working to clarify its impact and determine how agriculture can be part of the solution.

The Climate Adaptation Research Center at the University of California-Davis hosted a series of thought-provoking webinars this fall, which covered everything from forward-looking practices to the role of public policy. The panels included at least two prominent scientists from the Mountain-Plains region…

Improving soil health is widely seen as one of the best ways to improve agricultural resiliency while preparing for an uncertain future. Tim Crews, director of research and lead scientist in the ecology program at the Land Institute, based at Salina, Kansas, outlined why perennial crop development could be a valuable tool.

The Land Institute has invested decades researching and developing several perennial crops, including a short-statured, deep-rooted sunflower native to the Great Plains (sometimes referred to as rosinweed) and Kernza, an intermediate wheatgrass that produces small grains. Scientists there are also experimenting with mixed cropping, such as inter-seeding alfalfa into Kernza to reduce the need for nitrogen fertilization.

Perennial cropping systems allow practitioners to hit all of the key soil health principles at once, including minimizing soil disturbance, keeping the soil covered and living roots growing, and diversifying plant populations, Crews said.

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