Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Media Coverage

These Kansans See A Way To Fight Climate Change By Breeding Ecofriendly Crops

Publication: KMUW 89.1 - NPR

Author: Brian Grimmett

SALINA, Kansas — Ebony Murrell and a few interns meticulously sort 99 kinds of silphium. It’s a wild relative to a sunflower. And the biologists at The Land Institute — an outfit devoted to finding out how science can make farming more planet-friendly — want to unravel the plant’s secrets for tolerating bugs and diseases.

“We don’t know what all of these traits mean in terms of plant defenses,” Murrell said. “Any or all of them could matter.”

The thousands of data points collected about bug resistance make up just one small part of the larger goal of developing the wild silphium into a perennial crop farmers can plant and harvest for seed oil.

Unlike annually planted crops such as wheat, corn and sorghum, perennial crops more closely mimic how a natural prairie works. Instead of planting new seed every year, farmers can plant once and expect years of harvests.

About 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of natural ecosystems comes from agriculture. But the 50 or so researchers at The Land Institute think they can show farmers how to reduce their carbon footprint.

Murrell said the deep root systems of perennial agriculture mimic natural prairie. They stop erosion and rebuild the soil.

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