Perennial Grain Crops Inch Closer to Reality
Perennial crop breeder with the University of Manitoba, Doug Cattani, has been advancing research on wild sunflowers, perennial cereal ryegrass, intermediate wheatgrass and other crops to develop perennial grain crops that can withstand Canada’s Prairie winters, while reducing the need for fertilizers, herbicides, and annual replanting.
After four years of work, some crops show more promise than others. Perennial cereal ryegrass has been shelved due to extensive disease problems, but Intermediate wheatgrass is showing the most potential for the earliest commercialization. Selections of intermediate wheatgrass have shown a hardiness that has allowed it to survive three consecutive Prairie winters while still producing consistent yields with twice the amount of protein compared to typical forage varieties.
“We’ve got a long way to go on the agronomics but I think we know now that we have a product that is adapted to Manitoba and hopefully Western Canada,” said Cattani.
Not only will the development of a perennial grain crop revolutionize food production, but would benefit the environment through reducing erosion, building up organic matter, and soaking up excess water, as native grasslands once did.
Intermediate wheatgrass would not be a replacement for wheat as it does not have the same gluten properties, but Cattani foresees it being a crop that can be blended with wheat for various applications for human consumption.
The team is targeting having enough perennial intermediate wheatgrass seed to advance to agronomic trials in 2016, and are optimistically looking at the possibility of a viable crop within 15 to 20 years.