Perennial Grains Activity in Australia

Contributors: Richard Hayes and Matthew Newell

Here is a sampling of recent work on perennial cereals coming out of Australia!
Headlines below link to paper abstracts:

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Researcher Matt Newell (New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station) also wrote the following brief detailing highlights of his recent visit to the Land Institute:

Perennial Grains Activity in Australia

Developing perennial grains offers a novel approach to sustainable agricultural production while maintaining food security. In Australia, research has highlighted the need to return perennials back into the landscape to ameliorate the soil degradation caused by annual cropping. A component of this research, conducted by a team led by NSW DPI, successfully demonstrated the feasibility of perennial grains for Australia. Recent interest in developing cropping systems for the permanent pasture zone in Australia, has indicated the need to develop dual purpose perennial grain crops which could supply a forage source for grazing animals as well as harvestable grain, improving the profitability in a mixed farming enterprise. Perennial grains could offer solutions to the impediments to annual grain production in this zone as well as limit the potential environmental damaged caused through the removal of perennial species.

Recently Matthew Newell from NSW DPI travelled to The Land Institute in Kansas. This provided an opportunity to work more closely with colleagues there, allowing a better understanding of the breath of research undertaken. During this time new crosses with wheat and other perennial grasses, including some Australian native grasses were developed. This is important as by studying these crosses we can learn more about the genetics of the perennial habit. Also it provides an avenue to increase the diversity among perennial cereals currently available, with an aim of creating material that may demonstrate improved adaptability to differing environments.

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Alien pollen germinating on wheat stigma. Photo courtesy of Matthew Newell.

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Rescued hybrid wheat embryos on media. Photo courtesy of Matthew Newell.

Further studies were completed in investigating biological nitrogen (N) fixation in perennial sorghum and the ability of perennial sunflowers to extract deep soil N. The importance of these experiments is that it provides information on the nitrogen economy in perennial cropping systems. In modern annual cropping systems there is high dependence on synthetic nitrogen inputs which require a considerable amount of energy to produce. Recovery of added synthetic nitrogen in grain farming is at best 50% which leaves a large amount of nutrient that is susceptible to loss with potential to cause environmental damage. By comparison, in a farming system based on perennials, nutrient loss is reduced due to the greater soil volume accessed by roots and better synchrony between crop demand and nutrient availability.

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Perennial sorghum for N fixation. Photo courtesy of Matthew Newell.

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Soil N extration in perennial sunflower. Photo courtesy of Matthew Newell.

It is hoped that this activity will be beneficial in sourcing funds from both Australian and USA donors to support an international project between TLI and DPI to further perennial grains research.

Kernza Charisma

Intermediate wheatgrass (IWG) is a perennial, cool-season grass found in pastures, and has been bred for large seed size and yield so that it can also be used as a grain crop on farms throughout the Upper Midwest.

IWG has a large root system which helps the plant more efficiently use water and nutrients, and alleviates soil erosion risks.  The dual-use of intermediate wheatgrass as a forage and grain are currently being researched at both the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota, and breeding work continues at the Land Institute in Kansas.  However the trademark intermediate wheatgrass variety Kernza has spread its roots beyond experiment stations, its grain being used to make beer, baked goods, and breakfast goodies.  There’s been a lot of excitement around the culinary utility of Kernza as of late. This recent Washington Post article written by Sandra Black touches on some of this enthusiasm and promise surrounding Kernza grain in various food and beverages. A Huffington Post blog posted last month highlights Long Root Ale, a beer released by Patagonia Provisions and brewed by Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, OR, that is made with Kernza.

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Now, who wants to add a little Kernza flour to their holiday pie crusts?