Expanding the scope of Kernza is the aim of a multi-state coalition. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison are part of the coalition to expand the research, production and commercialization of Kernza, a commercial perennial grain harvested from new varieties of intermediate wheatgrass.

The coalition recently was awarded a five-year, $10-million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant is available through the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems program.

The perennial provides several years of harvestable grain. It has a deep root system that improves water and soil quality and reduces soil erosion. Research has shown it can decrease inputs and costs from reduced tilling, pesticide requirements and nutrient runoff, according to the coalition.

“Developing agroecosystems that provide healthy food while reducing environmental impacts in the face of climate change is a global priority for agricultural research,” said Valentín Picasso, an assistant professor of agronomy at UW-Madison and a co-investigator on the project. “Cropping systems that include perennial forages and grain crops such as Kernza can contribute to food for humans and feed for livestock. They also can reduce environmental impacts and increase resilience to climate change relative to annual cropping systems.”

Picasso has assessed the management of perennial dual-purpose crops in sustainable forage and grazing systems. He has been a collaborator with The Land Institute, the nonprofit agricultural-research organization that developed Kernza. The organization holds the Kernza trademark.

As leader of the new project’s agronomy-focused objectives Picasso will oversee efforts to explore Kernza variety evaluation, fertilizer optimization, and on-farm research to develop best-management practices.

The long-term goal of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative project is to develop a blueprint for U.S. agricultural systems to shift from annual row-crop production to perennial production.

Informally called the Kernza CAP project, it brings together partners from multiple states to form teams that will lead research, breeding, agronomics, environmental quality, supply chains and education. Each team is composed of academic and non-academic experts. They are researchers, industry leaders, farmers, educators and policy makers from 10 universities and 24 nonprofit and farm and food organizations. A sixth team will be charged with ensuring the project’s partners are communicating and cross-collaborating effectively and efficiently. Visit kernza.org/kernzacap for more information.