Transforming Agriculture, Perennially
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Kernza ripens in a New 70 breeding plot at The Land Institute.

Kernza® Grain

Kernza® is the trademark name for the grain of an intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) being developed at The Land Institute.

Today, this ecologically beneficial perennial grain has already made its way into the commercial supply chain in small niche markets. We’re working toward a future that includes multiple varieties of Kernza® that are economical for farmers around the world to produce at large scale.


Why Kernza®?

  • Kernza® grain plants are deeply rooted. The roots can extend 10 feet or more beneath the soil surface, where they deliver atmospheric carbon to the soil and efficiently take up nutrients and water.
  • The yield potential of Kernza is rapidly increasing, and after harvest, remaining leaves and stems can be grazed by cattle.
  • In good conditions, the long, slender Kernza® seed heads can contain more seeds than an annual wheat head. Additionally, with each breeding cycle, researchers work to increase seed size.
  • New varieties of Kernza® grain can enable farmers to grow it profitably at scale and bring its environmental benefits to modern farms and diets.

Intern Madeline DeBois selects Kernza heads for harvest in a breeding plot at The Land Institute. The Institute is developing the wheat-like Kernza as a perennial grain crop.

Ten years after we began to see the potential of Kernza® perennial grain and secured the tradename,
there are 107 farmers producing it on over 2,000 acres globally. Ingredient producers, millers, and distributors are helping move grain from farm to market, and consumers are enjoying the great taste of
Kernza® in products and menu items across the U.S. In order to continue this transition from research to farm to plate, we’ve launched a resource that serves as the definitive source of information about growing, accessing, and using Kernza® perennial grain.

For more on how to get Kernza® seed, grain or products, visit: Kernza.org

Program History

In 1983, using Wes Jackson’s vision to develop perennial grain crops as inspiration and guidance, plant breeders at the Rodale Institute selected a Eurasian forage grass called intermediate wheatgrass (scientific name Thinopyrum intermedium), a grass species related to wheat, as a promising perennial grain candidate. Beginning in 1988, researchers with the USDA and Rodale Institute undertook two cycles of selection for improved fertility, seed size, and other traits in New York state.

The Land Institute’s breeding program for intermediate wheatgrass began in 2003, guided by Dr. Lee DeHaan. Multiple rounds of selecting and inter-mating the best plants based on their yield, seed size, disease resistance, and other traits have been performed, resulting in improved populations of intermediate wheatgrass that are currently being evaluated and further selected at The Land and by collaborators in diverse environments.

Program Goals

  • The breeding program is currently focused on selecting for a number of traits including yield, shatter resistance, free threshing ability, seed size, and grain quality.
  • In the next 10 years, we aim to have the crop increase seed size to 50% of annual bread wheat seed size from the current 25%.
  • Our long-term goals include developing varieties that resist lodging (falling over) and have improved bread baking quality.
  • Experiments are also underway to pair Kernza® with legumes in inter-cropped arrangements that achieve greater ecological intensification, and to utilize Kernza® as a dual purpose forage and grain crop in diverse farming operations.
  • Eventually, our goal is for Kernza® to have yields similar to annual wheat and be widely grown throughout the northern United States and in several other countries around the world.

Research Collaborators

Domestic

  • Cornell University Ithaca, New York
  • Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology Huntsville, Alabama
  • Kansas State University Manhattan, Kansas
  • Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan
  • The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio
  • University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Utah State University Logan, Utah

Global

  • ISARA Lyon, F ranee
  • Liege University Gembloux, Belgium
  • Lund University Lund, Sweden
  • Namik Kemal University, Turkey
  • University of Manitoba Winnipeg, Canada

 

Kernza® Crop Stewardship

The Land Institute developed the registered trademark for Kernza® grain to help identify intermediate wheatgrass grain that is certified as a perennial using the most advanced types of T. intermedium seed.

When you buy Kernza® perennial grain, you can be certain that you’re eating product grown on a perennial field that is building soil health, helping retain clean water, sequestering carbon, and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Starting with hobbyist bakers on staff at The Land Institute, Kernza® has been tested in kitchens across the country for over a decade. Innovative chefs, bakers, brewers, distillers, researchers, and growers are now using Kernza® in place of or combined with wheat or other grains.

Our friends Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint were some of the first prolific users of Kernza® perennial grain at their former restaurant The Perennial in San Francisco. Their pioneering efforts resulted in some of the most innovative Kernza® recipes we have ever tasted. Today, their tireless work in showing all of us that delicious food and the people and stories behind it can be a solution to climate change continues through their new venture Zero Foodprint.

For more on how to get Kernza® seed, grain or products, visit: Kernza.org

 

Who's Using Kernza®?

Kernza® can be used in baked goods and is now being sold in a number of restaurants. Many others have tested it in their products and kitchens. Although current strains of Kernza® grain are lower in gluten strength than annual wheat, consumers sensitive to gluten should exercise caution.

At this point, Kernza® is most frequently blended with annual wheat flour to make bread, and can make up 100% of the flour in quick breads (muffins, pancakes, etc.) or served as a pilaf like rice, as well as in beer products.

      • Patagonia Provisions: Patagonia Provisions was the first company to develop a commercial retail product made from Kernza® perennial grain for the mainstream marketplace.  Patagonia took a significant risk, breaking through the initial barrier to new product development and market entry.  That first-to-market product is Long Root Ale. The initiative and investment on the part of Patagonia Provisions to bring Long Root Ale to market helped pave the way for other partnerships and potential Kernza® products becoming more widely available to consumers.
      • Perennial Pantry: online sales of Kernza® flour and whole grain direct to consumers.
      • Birchwood Cafe:  in Minneapolis, Minnesota features Kernza® on their menu.
      • Cafe Gratitude: in the Los Angeles, California features Kernza ®on their menu.
      • Avalanche Pizza: in Athens, Ohio features Kernza® on their menu.
      • Hopworks Urban Brewery: Located in Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA Hopworks Urban Brewery brewed Long Root Ale for Patagonia Provisions and has it on tap, in addition to the ale in four-pack cans being sold in Whole Foods in California.
      • Bang! Brewing: Located in St. Paul, MN, Bang Brewering has a Kernza® beer available.
      • Blue Skye Brewery: Located in Salina, Kansas has a Kernza® beer available.
      • Dumpling & Strand: Innovation Dumpling & Strand produces Kernza® pasta that they retail through Twin Cities-area farmers’ markets. There are a few other small-scale retail food outlets scattered around the country, but to our knowledge, those are the most reliable sources right now.
      • Cascadian Farm: Cascadian Farm is excited to incorporate Kernza® into some of its foods, with expectations for products made with Kernza® available in retail markets by late 2019.  Cascadian Farm has agreed to purchase an initial amount of the perennial grain which allows us to arrange with farmers to plant on commercial-scale fields versus the test sized plots currently being grown. General Mills (parent company of Cascadian Farm) approved a $500,000 charitable contribution to the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota in partnership with The Land Institute, to support advanced research to measure the potential of Kernza to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production, determine best management practices for sustainable production, and increase Kernza yields through breeding.

For more on how to get Kernza® seed, grain or products, visit: Kernza.org

 

Helping Grow Perennial Agriculture

Kernza® grain is the first perennial crop from The Land lnstitute’s work to be introduced into the
agriculture and food markets, but our researchers are currently working on others, including perennial wheat, perennial rice, perennial sorghum, and perennial oilseeds, with more to come.

Join us by supporting this work with a donation to The Land Institute.

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Project Team

Lee DeHaan
Lead Scientist, Kernza® Domestication Program

Marty Christians
Research Technician, Kernza®

Sophia Skelly
Research Resident

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