A Perennial Wheat Variety Could Be on the Horizon
Kernza, a new grain variety from the Land Institute, derived from an ancient wheatgrass, is now being grown in test plots around the world.
Unlike corn, wheat and other edible grains, Kernza is a perennial, eliminating the need for yearly tilling, seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides for each season. But the most intriguing aspect of Kernza, is its roots and how it interacts with the soil. Whereas typical wheat does not live long enough to develop extensive roots, Kernza develops a dense root system extending ten feet into the soil.
Because Kernza is developed from a wild variety of wheatgrass, its grains are small, offering more bran and fiber, but lower yields. Scientists at the Land Institute, led by Lee DeHaan, are working on breeding Kernza for increased grain size and yield, and a ‘non shattering hull’. Shattering is when wild grains drop their seeds to the ground as they mature. Domesticated grains have been bred to retain their seeds throughout the season so they can be harvested.
Because they continue year after year, perennials have developed the ability to resist disease and pests over their evolutionary timeline, and although some of the Kernza plants have been susceptible to bacteria leaf streak, the variety has proven to be ‘phenomenally clean’.