Perennial Grains


Perennial grain cropping systems can dramatically improve soil health and water quality on our farms. By maintaining constant cover and minimizing the need for soil disturbance, the systems can help reduce erosion, retain nutrients, reduce the need for weed control and foster active and resilient soil food webs. Emerging perennial grains yield less than modern annual grain crops but the profitability of these systems can be significantly increased if we harvest both forage and grain. As a dual-use crop, perennial grains can help integrate livestock with crops and further drive these systems toward agricultural sustainability. Our lab is working in a collaborative study evaluating perennial grains. Our focal crop is kernza.


Kernza is the trade name for a perennial grain crop being bred from lines of intermediate wheatgrass, a widely adapted, high-yielding, high-quality, cool-season forage grass. Kernza is a sod-forming grass, is very weed competitive and produces a dense rooting system that captures nutrients and feeds microbes belowground. This grass produces nutritious seed that has food quality characteristics suitable for incorporating into many food products (breads, pancakes, pastries, etc.). Lee DeHaan has been breeding Kernza at the Land Institute in Salina, KS for more than a decade. A multi-state pilot study has been initiated to evaluate the potential of Kernza as a dual-use crop. Timing and frequency of defoliation (i.e., cutting, simulating grazing, green-chop) will be manipulated to assess effects on Kernza yield and forage quality.


Over-arching goals are to generate a preliminary dataset for peer-review publication, build a collaborative team and position this team to be competitive for a large multi-state proposal within the next few years.

Specific Project Objectives:

  1. Determine the effects of defoliation on Kernza grain yields and forage quality
  2. Determine variation of Kernza grain yields and defoliation response over multiple environments
  3. Evaluate potential for adding economic value to a perennial grain system through additional forage harvest


The promise of perennials Working through the challenges of perennial grain crop development

Perennial Grain Work in Ohio