USDA Funds Project Encouraging Farmers to Grow Perennial Kernza
A multi-state coalition of researchers, farmers, educators, industry leaders, policy experts, and climate scientists was recently awarded a competitive 5-year, $10 million grant through USDA NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) Sustainable Agricultural Systems program to scale the research, production, awareness and commercialization of Kernza, the first commercial perennial grain in the United States.
Kernza is the trademark name for the perennial grain harvested from new varieties of intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), a forage grass that has been used by farmers across the United States for decades. As a perennial, Kernza is planted once and provides several years of harvestable grain. Kernza has a deep root system that provides multiple environmental benefits, including improving water and soil quality and reducing soil erosion. Additionally, research has shown that this new perennial grain can increase farm income due to decreased inputs and costs from reduced tilling, pesticide requirements and nutrient runoff.
The project, formally titled Developing and Deploying a Perennial Grain Crop Enterprise to Improve Environmental Quality and Rural Prosperity, seeks to advance agriculture production by developing the blueprint for US agricultural systems to shift from annual row crop production that requires tilling and planting every year to perennial production. By building the support system necessary to successfully increase Kernza acres, this project aims to improve the environmental sustainability of food production and demonstrate the viability of new perennial crops as real economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities.