Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Scientific Publications

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Prioritize perennial grain development for sustainable food production and environmental benefits

Author: Lee R. DeHaan, James A. Anderson, Prabin Bajgain, Andrea Basche, Douglas J. Cattani, Jared Crain, Timothy E. Crews, Christophe David, Olivier Duchene, Jessica Gutknecht, Richard C. Hayes, Fengyi Hu, Jacob M. Jungers, Søren Knudsen, Wenqian Kong, Steve Larson, Per-Olof Lundquist, Guangbin Luo, Allison J. Miller, Pheonah Nabukalu, Matthew T. Newell, Lennart Olsson, Michael Palmgren, Andrew H. Paterson, Valentin D. Picasso, Jesse A. Poland, Erik J. Sacks, Shuwen Wang and Anna Westerbergh

Publication: Science of the Total Environment

Lee DeHaan, Lead Scientist for the Kernza Domestication Program at The Land Institute, and three other Lead Scientists at the organization collaborated with 28 global research partners working with perennial grains to provide a holistic overview of the benefits to food production and ecological health associated with perennial grains and the need for direct and immediate investments in development efforts.


Perennial grains have potential to contribute to ecological intensification of food production by enabling the direct harvest of human-edible crops without requiring annual cycles of disturbance and replanting. Studies of prototype perennial grains and other herbaceous perennials point to the ability of agroecosystems including these crops to protect water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, build soil quality, and sequester soil carbon. However, genetic improvement of perennial grain candidates has been hindered by limited investment due to uncertainty about whether the approach is viable. As efforts to develop perennial grain crops have expanded in past decades, critiques of the approach have arisen. With a recent report of perennial rice producing yields equivalent to those of annual rice over eight consecutive harvests, many theoretical concerns have been alleviated. Some valid questions remain over the timeline for new crop development, but we argue these may be mitigated by implementation of recent technological advances in crop breeding and genetics such as low-cost genotyping, genomic selection, and genome editing. With aggressive research investment in the development of new perennial grain crops, they can be developed and deployed to provide atmospheric greenhouse gas reductions.



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