Thu Oct 18, 2012, 06:46 AM
HiPointDem (20,729 posts)
Agriculture's Next Revolution -- Perennial Grain -- Within Sight
Earth-friendly perennial grain crops, which grow with less fertilizer, herbicide, fuel, and erosion than grains planted annually, could be available in two decades, according to researchers writing in the current issue (2010) of the journal Science.
Perennial grains would be one of the largest innovations in the 10,000 year history of agriculture, and could arrive even sooner with the right breeding programs, said John Reganold, Washington State University (WSU) Regents professor of soil science and lead author of the paper with Jerry Glover, a WSU-trained soil scientist now at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas...
Published in Science's influential policy forum, the paper is a call to action as half the world's growing population lives off marginal land at risk of being degraded by annual grain production. Perennial grains, say the paper's authors, expand farmers' ability to sustain the ecological underpinnings of their crops.
Perennial grains, say the authors, have longer growing seasons than annual crops and deeper roots that let the plants take greater advantage of precipitation. Their larger roots, which can reach ten to 12 feet down, reduce erosion, build soil and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. They require fewer passes of farm equipment and less herbicide, key features in less developed regions. By contrast, annual grains can lose five times as much water as perennial crops and 35 times as much nitrate, a valuable plant nutrient that can migrate from fields to pollute drinking water and create "dead zones" in surface waters.
Perennial grain research is underway in Argentina, Australia, China, India, Sweden and the United States. Washington State University has more than a decade of work on perennial wheat led by Stephen Jones, director WSU's Mount Vernon Research Center. Jones is also a contributor to the Science paper, which has more than two dozen authors, mostly plant breeders and geneticists.
I hope I donít sound too self-important when I announce an historic moment in our kitchen. Carol just made pancakes with flour from a new and startling source. Wes Jackson, the celebrated plant geneticist, author, farmer (and years ago a fairly good football player), has been experimenting for decades now with the bold idea that perennial grains can be developed to take the place of annual grains, thus revolutionizing agriculture by making it unnecessary for so many millions of acres to be cultivated annually. I raise my forkful of wheatgrass pancake and I salute you, Mr. Jackson.
This flour has the trademarked name, Kernza ô and comes from selected strains of wild intermediate wheatgrass grain, which Jackson and his staff at the Land Institute near Salina, Kansas are crossing with annual wheat varieties to breed a commercially practical perennial grain. The flour makes a light dough and the pancakes taste just a tad sweeter than ordinary wheat flour. It is Jacksonís hope that within ten years, he and his staff can develop Kernza ô for use in commercially manufactured foods.... To me the important thing is that for once something that is good for me tastes good too. Kernza ô does not have enough gluten in it to use alone for leavened breads, but as more and more crosses are made with it and regular wheat, all things are possible...
Perennial wheat is not the only grain being developed. Much progress has been made breeding up wild perennial sunflowers toward eventual perennial commercial varieties. The vision of an agriculture where we donít have to tear up millions of acres of soil every year, saving all that money and fuel energy, is most alluring. You need to be around Wes hardly five minutes to get as excited as he is about the prospects. Other institutions are catching the fever. Michigan State University has started a program in developing perennial wheat. Chinese scientists are intensely interested in perennial rice. I canít think of any development so significant to a truly sustainable agriculture.
perennial wheat & its root system
7 replies, 2399 views
Agriculture's Next Revolution -- Perennial Grain -- Within Sight (Original post)
Response to ToxMarz (Reply #3)
Thu Oct 18, 2012, 08:16 AM
HereSince1628 (33,926 posts)
5. Weed and pest control is always something of an issue
You can pretty much bet that companies that produce GMOs will be involved in an significant expansion of a new food grain.
Historically, cultivation and crop rotation have been important in disease and pest management. Seems to me a perennial crop will leave producers to deal with those problems in some other way.
Response to HiPointDem (Original post)
Thu Oct 18, 2012, 08:35 AM
GulleyJimson (107 posts)
6. How will Monsanto make money?
They'll lease the seeds and arrest farmers whose crops end up pollinated via migration. Of course, said farmers will have the option to enter into Monsanto's leasing program.