Kernza: Could this perennial wheatgrass help farmers adapt to climate change?
Farmers are testing a long-lived, long-rooted relative of conventional wheat.
(Photo credit: Dehaan / Wikimedia)
As the weather gets colder, Carmen Fernholz of Minnesota enjoys looking out at his fields of Kernza. This wheatgrass is a perennial, which means it overwinters and comes back in spring.
“It’s so nice to see some green fields late into November and December and early again in March and April,” he says.
Kernza grows chest-high, with roots that can extend nearly 10 feet below ground. So over time, it helps build soil carbon, improve soil health, and reduce runoff.
“We look at the increased rains that we’re getting even in western Minnesota,” Fernholz says. “If we’ve got a way to take care of that extra precipitation, all the better.”
And Kernza can provide farmers with two crops: forage for livestock, and a grain that can be used in cereal and other foods.
So it’s promising, but new. Fernholz is growing a small amount and giving feedback to researchers. He says his main concern is figuring out how to keep yields up over time.
But he says growing Kernza for a few years between other crops will improve his soil.
“And so by utilizing the Kernza, it’s just going to make that field much better for my major revenue crops of corn and soybeans,” he says.