Growing the perennial crop kernza could have multiple benefits, including being a dual-use crop for producers in Montana and the Dakotas.
As a dual-use crop, kernza may be used as either forage or grain.
“Kernza is an intermediate wheatgrass, a forage grass that has been around for quite a long time,” said Clair Keene, NDSU Extension cropping systems specialist at Williston Research Extension Center.
Keene’s kernza variety trial is in its second year at the center.
“We have both a spring-planted and fall-planted trial and we aren’t sure what would be best for this northern arid region,” Keene said.
Perennials are a good choice for producers, who may not want to plant an annual forage every year.
“Producers could harvest it for seed for about three seasons, and then they could hay or graze it,” she said.
Kernza is a different type of perennial in that it has been bred for increased seed size and yield.
“It is still an experimental crop, but breeders have made a lot of progress in the last 15 years in increasing the seed yield,” Keene said.
In addition, kernza can be used as a grain in human food.
“Some food companies out there see it as a plus,” she said.
Kernza grain can be made into food products, such as a cereal. There was also an ale made out of kernza, as well.
Currently, there are only a few hundred thousand acres of kernza in the U.S., which would be a problem for food companies. They need a steady, consistent supply.
Keene is working with breeders in Kansas, Nebraska and at the University of Minnesota to breed lines that push kernza to yield as much as wheat.
Other benefits of kernza include:
- Deep perennial roots that keep soil erosion in check, and cover the soil year-round.
- Salt-tolerant, as alfalfa and some grasses are.
- Gives producers flexibility with their management.
- Stores carbon in the soil.
- Can be a tasty grain that can be eaten.
- Can be used as a hay crop or be grazed by livestock.