Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

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Researchers to Explore Perennial Grains With $1.77M Grant

Publication: Cornell Chronicle

Author: Krishna Ramanujan

A Cornell researcher is part of a multi-institution team helping upstate New York organic farmers grow and increase profitability of perennial grain crops, which can be planted once and will yield grain for multiple years.

The crops’ environmental benefits have led to commercial interest in using these grains in breads, cereals, beer and even whiskey.

Perennial grains are environmentally friendly thanks to their large root systems and because they don’t require annual tilling, which leads to soil erosion and degrades soil health. Perennial grains also need fewer fertilizers and pesticides and reduce agricultural runoff into waterways.

But current low yields for the grains – such as Kernza, a brand name for Thinopyrum intermedium, a domesticated version of intermediate wheatgrass – has led researchers to explore dual uses to increase profitability, such as using the plants as forage for animals.

Cornell is now a partner on a four-year, $1.77 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Research and Extension Initiative grant, awarded to develop growing guidelines for farmers and investigate dual uses for the organic crop.

Steve Culman, Ph.D. ’08, an agronomist at The Ohio State University, is director of the project, titled “Organic Dual-Use Perennial Grain Crops: Pathways to Profitability and Soil Health.”

Matt Ryan, an associate professor of soil and crop sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, leads a subcontract on the grant and will receive $313,200. He and colleagues at the University of Minnesota and at The Land Institute in Kansas, where Kernza was developed, will be developing management guidelines for farmers on growing and increasing profitability.

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