University of Minnesota Leads Project to Boost Yield, Uses of Crop that Could Cut Water Pollution
Minnesota farms may soon have a solution to the increasing pollution problem from row crops that’s been threatening the drinking supply of towns throughout the Upper Midwest. It all depends on a new strain of wheatgrass — called Kernza — and how quickly a team of farmers, researchers, wholesalers, chefs and even brewers can bring it to market.
The University of Minnesota will help lead a $10 million project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over the next five years to scale up the production of the long-promised grain — the first perennial grain to be commercialized in North America. Researchers at the U will work with dozens of scientists, farmers and buyers from Kansas, the Great Plains and around the Midwest to both increase the yield of the grain and expand the market for restaurants, millers and brewing companies to purchase it.
“Right now a farmer can’t just take Kernza to the local grain elevator and expect to sell it there,” said Jacob Jungers, researcher at the U and lead coordinator of the project. “So it’s about setting up the infrastructure and the supply chain. That’s the major economic hurdle we’re trying to overcome.”
The potential of a perennial grain grown in the United States, both economically and environmentally, has been the stuff of dreams for crop engineers and food scientists for decades. After more than 20 years of breeding and working with a Eurasian wheatgrass that was primarily used for livestock forage, the Land Institute, a nonprofit research center in Kansas, developed Kernza.