US primed for perennial wheat grass

Perennial wheat development advances in the US


Grains
University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative proponent Dr Don Wyse explains the benefits of perennial wheat. Picture - Sally Cripps.

University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative proponent Dr Don Wyse explains the benefits of perennial wheat. Picture - Sally Cripps.

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Its yields are a long way from its genetic relation but Kernza or "perennial wheat" is exciting researchers in the United States for many reasons.

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Its yields are a long way from its genetic relation but Kernza or "perennial wheat" is exciting researchers in the United States for many reasons.

There are high hopes that the intermediate wheatgrass, Thinopyrum intermedium, described as the first perennial grain in the world, will assist with carbon reduction needs and reduce soil erosion as well as fit in with growing requirements in colder parts of the country.

Journalists taking part in the 2019 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists' world congress inspected the latest developments in research on the forage species at the University of Minnesota's St Paul campus.

It's part of the university's Forever Green Initiative that's developing new perennial and winter annual crops to enhance the state's soil resources.

And despite Minnesota branding itself the Land of 10,000 Lakes, these crops and associated farming systems are being deployed in the effort to meet proposed water quality goals.

The large biomass of intermediate wheatgrass, particularly its extensive root system, means it's addiing organic matter deep into the soil all year round.

As University of Minnesota scientist Don Wyse said, everyone wants to reduce their carbon footprint but a farming system that only has its roots in the soil for three months "will be leaky".

"We have taken on the challenge to hit many targets," Dr Wyse said. "In crop development people are looking for high yields and disease resistance, and here we only have a three month growth window so it's got to be productive."

It provides continual ground cover, a big plus in the quest for the reduction in soil and water erosion, but its main problem is that its yield is about a quarter that of conventional wheat.

Dr Wyse said they were using genetic tools to improve yield, shatter resistance, free threshing ability, seed size, and grain quality, but would probably be 20 years from boasting that it had the same yield as wheat.

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They made the decision not to use genetic engineering because of consumer preference.

Proponents hope that its ability to be used by growers in conjunction with summer and winter annuals will be in its favour.

As to what it tastes like, US commentators seem to give it the thumbs up for both baking and beer. That element is also important to Forever Green, which manages not just the breeding but marketing and product delivery.

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