Annual wheat is grown on more acres than any other grain crop, at 548 million acres worldwide, followed by corn at 445 million acres and rice at 399 million acres. It accounts for 20% of human food calories and more protein calories than any other grain.
The Land Institute established the perennial wheat program in 2001 with the goal of developing perennial wheat that is economically viable for farmers and replaces the global food calories of annual wheat.
How The Perennial Wheat Breeding Program Works
The perennial wheat program at The Land Institute creates hybrids made from crossing annual wheat species – including bread wheat and durum wheat used for making pasta – with wheatgrass species (especially intermediate wheatgrass, which is the same species being domesticated as Kernza®).
Many successful hybrids have been achieved between wheat and wheatgrass. They are being used to understand the genetic contribution of the annual and perennial parents. Other research partners around the world have made similar crosses between annual and perennial wheat.
Twenty of the most promising crosses are being grown in nine different countries to see how particular genetic types vary in performance when grown under a broad range of environmental conditions.
Slow, Steady Progress Toward Perennial Yield
Elite lines of perennial wheat yield grain about 50-70% that of annual wheat cultivars.
Perenniality (the ability of the plant to regrow after grain harvest and to survive harsh winters and/or summers) is also highly variable depending on environmental conditions. Some of our perennial wheat plants in Kansas have lived for more than 6 years. In other locations, stands of perennial wheat have persisted for many more years.
Our breeding program continues to seek improvement on a number of plant traits including perenniality and yield. Although we see steady improvement every year, we expect it could take another 10-20 years to develop an economically viable perennial wheat variety.
We are partnering with researchers worldwide to develop perennial wheat. Read more about our research partners here.
Shuwen explains the latest progress on perennial wheat at the 2019 Prairie Festival.
Related Scientific Publications
Abstract: This study evaluated over 150 wheat × wheatgrass derivatives in a series of field…
Learn about other perennial crops under development at The Land Institute.