Kernza® Grain: Toward a Perennial Agriculture
Got Kernza®? Want Kernza®?
From Perennial Wheatgrass to the Kernza® Grain
Kernza GrainIn 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.
Experiments are also underway to pair Kernza® with legumes in intercrop arrangements that achieve greater ecological intensification, and to utilize Kernza® as a dual purpose forage and grain crop in diverse farming operations.
Although Kernza® grain has made its way into the commercial supply chain in small niche markets, our goal is to develop varieties of Kernza® that are economical for farmers to produce at large scale.
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 a crop with seed size that is 50% of annual bread wheat seed size. Our long-term goals include developing a semi-dwarf variety and improving bread baking quality.
Ultimately, we hope to develop a variety with yield similar to annual wheat and to see Kernza® widely grown throughout the northern United States and in several other countries around the world. If that vision becomes a reality, you might see Kernza® perennial grain in common staples found on grocery store shelves.