Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?

In May of 2019, The Land Institute teamed up with colleagues at Lund University in Sweden to host the international meeting “Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?” The title of the meeting came from a paper by TLI and Lund researchers published in Global Sustainability, a journal recently launched by the Stockholm Resilience Group. The meeting was held at Lund University’s Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies, spanned an entire week, involving three days of keynotes, thematic talk sessions, and break-out discussions, and two days of study tours to farms and research sites. The Lund conference was the largest meeting of its kind to date, involving over 100 researchers from 15 countries on five continents.

Locations of participants’ home institutions.

International Research Meetings on Transitioning to Perennial Polycultures

TLI poster in Pufendorf Institute

“Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial” built on ten previous international meetings spanning three decades of collaborations between researchers at The Land Institute and colleagues from around the world. These meetings initially focused on the need and rationale for a transition to perennial polycultures. With time, the focus of the meetings has shifted to challenges and breakthroughs in perennial crop breeding and agroecology. This series of meetings has resulted in numerous peer-reviewed publications, and two have resulted in published books.

  • 1989 Salina, Kansas
  • 1997 Williams, Australia
  • 2009 Kunming, China
  • 2010 Wagga Wagga, Australia
  • 2010 and 2011 Kellogg, Michigan
  • 2012 Manitoba, Canada
  • 2013 FAO in Rome, Italy
  • 2014 Estes Park, Colorado
  • 2015 ICRISAT, Mali
  • 2017 Yunnan, China

“Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?” Program

Fengyi Hu, Wes Jackson, and Shilai Zhang enjoy the first perennial rice eaten in Europe.

The Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies defines itself as place where….

“Researchers of different disciplinary backgrounds are given the opportunity to work together on scientific and societal challenges. In order to find answers to complicated problems, we stimulate boundary-crossing collaboration and encourage early-stage research ideas, which we believe have the potential to open up new research frontiers. This is why we support collaborative, interdisciplinary groups with members who endeavor to learn from each other.”

With this in mind, the meeting in Lund was organized to maximize meaningful exchange between different disciplines in order to make progress on key topics in natural systems agriculture.  Topics included:

  • Experiences accelerating progress in breeding (e.g., genomic selection, mutagenesis)
  • Designing and breeding for functional polycultures (e.g., grain-legume intercrops)
  • Ecological intensification at the species, community, and ecosystem scales
  • Advances and challenges in wide hybridization (sorghum, wheat, rice, barley)
  • Novel candidates for domestication and a global effort for expanding perennial crop research
  • Economic, political, and social aspects of adopting perennial polycultures

The complete program of talks can be found here.

Keynote Presentations

Keynote Presentations were filmed by staff from the Pufendorf Institute and have been posted to YouTube. They can be viewed below.

Study Tours

Columbia University PhD student Alex Huddel explains her research at SAFE.

Researchers participated in study tours on the opening and closing days of the conference.  On Monday morning the group visited the Högestad Estate located 40 km East of Lund where in fall of 2018 farmers planted 25 hectares (62 acres) of Kernza seed from The Land Institute. The Kernza is being grown organically with fertility from either manure from Högestad livestock, or from N-fixing white clover that is intercropped with the Kernza.  In the afternoon the group travelled to a long term experiment called Sites Agroecology Field Experiment (SAFE) where many soil and crop features in Kernza  and Kernza-alfalfa fields are being measured and compared with conventional and organic cropping systems from Southern Sweden. SAFE is associated with the Swedish University of Agricultural Science in Lönnstorp, and is one of nine field stations operated by the Swedish Infrastructure for Ecosystem Science (SITES).

Dorte Bodin Dresboll by DeepFrontier root towers.

On Friday, meeting participants traveled to visit the DeepFrontier agricultural research facility operated by the University of Copenhagen near the town of Taastrup.  The DeepFrontier project consists of above and belowground root observatories designed to explore the various functions of deep roots in agricultural crops.  Several of the species included in the DeepFrontier project are perennials that either came from The Land Institute (Kernza and Silphium) or are the focus of research at The Land Institute (alfalfa and lupines).  The aboveground root observatories are towers standing four meters tall with removable panels for filming or sampling roots. The belowground observatories consist of 5 meter long “mini-rhizotrons” (see presentation by Corentin Bonaventure L R Clement) which are clear plastic tubes drilled at an angle into the soil for filming roots with digital cameras.

Media Coverage

Two of the most respected newspapers in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, published full length articles on perennial grains during the week of the meeting. In addition, Pufendorf Institute staff produced a short video, Why Perennial Grains?, in concert with the meeting.


Architects of “Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?”: Lennart Olsson, Lund University Professor, founding Director of LUCSUS, and Land Institute Board member (left) and Tim Crews, Land Institute Director of Research and soil ecologist.

Meeting Sponsors

Numerous organizations, foundations and individuals in Sweden and the US contributed generously to make this meeting possible. They included:


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