An agricultural revolution is underway in our Midwest prairie region. What sort of revolution am I talking about? Perennial grain crops.
The Decatur-based Agricultural Watershed Institute convened farmers, environmentalists and scientists on Aug. 9 at Richland Community College to discuss how farmers are taking center stage with new solutions to environmental problems when they add perennial grains to their toolkit, while at the same time, they produce more tasty, nutritious food.
Fred Iutzi of The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas, reported that the domestication of intermediate wheatgrass (a perennial relative of annual wheat) has reached the beta-test stage of commercialization. This first-ever perennial grain crop is trademarked as Kernza.
Several local Central Illinois farmers were in attendance to share their experiences growing Kernza interplanted with red clover. Moreover, coming to our grocery stores as early as next year is a new breakfast cereal made with Kernza.
In addition to Kernza, plant breeders at The Land Institute and more than 40 U.S.-based and world-wide collaborators are hard at work domesticating perennial relatives of other annual grains, including varieties of rice, wheat, sorghum, legumes, and silphium (a native prairie plant).
Perennial grains would be good for people and the environment. The beauty of perennial crop plants is they have well-developed root systems that help to enrich and hold the soil, preventing the loss of fertile top soil.
Although not likely to overtake corn and soybeans in terms of volume, perennials could approach the yields of oats and barley. The son of farmers still actively farming in Western Illinois, Fred Iutzi said The Land Institute’s vision “builds on and honors farmers.”
I’m excited about this new development. Please, everyone, Google “perennial grains."
Catherine M. Stanford, Decatur