Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Media Coverage


The Land Institute Seeding New Roots

Publication: Salina Journal

Author: Jean Kozubowski

New Roots {International}, NRI, is receiving $1 million in seed money. The new Land Institute program received one of the first four $1 million Food Planet Prizes from the Curt Bergfors Foundation in Sweden.

“It’s kind of nice to get an international nod,” said Rachel Stroer, acting president of The Land Institute, for an organization that was started in Salina. “We already partner internationally; this is something we need to do more of.”

Food Planet prizes recognize initiatives, organizations and individuals working to secure the world’s food supply while fostering a healthy and resilient biosphere, according to a news release from the foundation.

It is the largest monetary reward in the global food arena. Other winners were from the United Kingdom, Australia and Kenya. This is the first year for the prize.

The prize is specifically for NRI, “which we’re in the process of launching right now,” Stroer said. It’s also the largest international donation to The Land Institute.

NRI will create a “hub” for researchers, a place to connect with other researchers and projects, funding opportunities and education, she said.

“That initiative is to ignite the movement for perennial grain research globally,” Stroer said. “We feel like we’re at a point where there’s a considerable potential to scale the work, and we feel responsibility for the sake of farmers in Kansas and around the world to accelerate the development of perennial grains and the ecological cropping systems, of course.”

With the NRI, which will be based in Salina, The Land Institute plans to expand its network of 53 international research partners and cooperating institutions in 15 countries on six continents. The missing continent is “the icy one,” Antarctica, Stroer said.

“We’ve started and will be continuing our survey of international partners, their needs and what they would like to see the NRI take on,” she said.

In the next months, the institute will search for a director for NRI, who will head a steering committee to identify priorities.

“The idea of the initiative has been in development quite some time, starting with a meeting in 2011 at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in Rome,” she said. “There was a lot of excitement in formalizing the consortium of researchers who are already working on perennial grains,” at a recent meeting at Lund University in Sweden.

Perennial grains are planted just once and can be harvested for several years from that one planting, Stroer said. They enrich the soil and hold the soil in place, she said.

They are becoming increasingly important because of “the challenge of our cascading ecological crisis, climate change, water and soil degradation and loss, social disparity, all of that,” she said.

Some of the institute’s partners already are having success with perennial rice and a grain called Kernza.

Kernza, which partners in Minnesota and Utah are developing, has a crop yield of about 30% of an annual grain, and that is increasing with every breeding season, Stroer said. She expects it to match an annual yield in 10 to 20 years.

Perennial rice, which is being developed by partner Yunnan University in China, has a yield about equal to that of annual rice, she said.

Other breeding programs include perennial wheat, sorghum, oil seed and legumes.

The Land Institute has been working on developing perennial grains since its founding in 1976.

Wes Jackson, one of the founders, observed that annual grain crops depleted the soil of nutrients and contributed to soil loss, while the long roots of prairie perennials enriched the soil and kept it in place.

“The Land Institute is the only place that has the whole picture of the perennial grain crop breeding, the ecological intensification of the cropping system and the social transformation aspect all in one place,” Stroer said.

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