Perennial grains – the perennial wheat Kernza

Most of the problems that farming is struggling with today – large emissions of greenhouse gases, soil erosion, nutrient run-off and over usage of chemicals – could be solved if perennial grains were grown instead of annual. Due to this, Axfoundation is testing a perennial wheat – Kernza - at Torsåker farm.

A newly ploughed field is vulnerable, with no roots to bind the valuable soil.

A newly ploughed field is vulnerable, with no roots to bind the valuable soil.

The Issue

The majority of what is grown today is annual grains. The same process have to be started over every new growing season. The soil has to be ploughed, the ground sown, the grains established and then harvested to never be returned, unless the process is repeated. A newly ploughed field is vulnerable, with no roots to bind the valuable soil and important nutrients are leaked and end up in waterways where they contribute to the eutrophication of the oceans

The Solution

Perennial grains harness carbon in the ground thus decreasing the carbon dioxide emissions from farming. Perennial grains also contribute to decreased energy consumption and the reduced time requirement for the farmer who doesn’t have to plough and sow every growing season. The perennial grains are more resistant to draught and water stress, and their deep roots improves the absorption of nutrients from the ground.

Kernza is a perennial wheat that has been developed through domestication of a perennial wheat grass, refined by plant breeders at Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, USA. Researchers at The Land Institute in Kansas have since 2003, under the direction of Dr Lee De Haan, advanced the perennial wheat using the best plants judged on the basis of seeds, seed size and disease resistance, which has resulted in improved strains.

Our Work

Since 2018 Axfoundation and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have conducted a larger experiment to try to refine Kernza to suit the Swedish conditions at Torsåker farm. The researcher in charge is Anna Westerbergh, senior fellow in genetics and plant breeding at the institution for plant biology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. Together we are also researching which food products would be most suitable for Kernza.

Torsåker farm today has the world’s largest collection of genetic material of perennial wheat - Kernza.

Torsåker farm today has the world’s largest collection of genetic material of perennial wheat – Kernza.

Results

Today there is a large genetic variety of the perennial wheat Kernza at Torsåker farm, Axfoundation’s development center for sustainable food. The aim is to evaluate which kind is most suitable for the Swedish climate regarding growth, amount of seeds and resilience. Our hope is to harvest the first crop in 2020.

Projects within Future Food

Contact