Forage harvest management impacts “Kernza” intermediate wheatgrass productivity across North America
Publication: Agronomy Journal
Research into the productivity of Kernza as a forage and grain crop examines the plant’s profitability associated with its dual-purpose nature, the mechanisms driving increased productivity of the crop, and the benefits to farmers from dual-use management by harvesting both forage and grain from the plant.
Intermediate wheatgrass [IWG, Thinopyrum intermedium (Host) Barkworth & D.R. Dewey, trade name Kernza] is a widely adapted, cool-season forage grass, actively bred for perennial grain production. Most of IWG’s net primary productivity is directed to nonreproductive structures, so dual-use strategies to harvest both grain and forage represent a potentially viable pathway to increase its productivity and profitability. We conducted a 3-year trial at nine diverse environments across North America to evaluate grain and forage yields and forage nutritive value of an early IWG breeding line under contrasting forage harvest managements. These included control (no forage harvest), summer forage harvest immediately after grain harvest, and summer forage harvest with spring or fall forage harvests. Across all sites, IWG grain yields averaged 745, 296, and 221 kg ha−1 for the first, second, and third years, respectively. Grain yields were influenced more by stand age than site. Summer forage mass after grain harvest averaged 6.0, 4.5, and 5.7 Mg ha−1 respectively for the first 3 years. Forage mass was less influenced by stand age, and more by site and forage harvest frequency. Fall forage harvest increased grain yields while spring forage harvests decreased grain yields and both treatments increased total relative feed nutritive values. Collectively, our results demonstrate that harvesting forage can improve both grain yield and forage nutritive values. Farmers growing IWG as a perennial grain can benefit from dual-use management by harvesting both grain and forage.