Kernza Research is in Full Swing at Cornell University

By Dana Christel

Last week I spoke with Sandra Wayman, Research Technician with the Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab at Cornell University about emergent research on Kernza in the state of New York.  The lab’s first project was established in 2014 with long-term intentions, as part of a multi-state project focusing on grain and forage yields of Kernza. Wayman said that some of the main things she’s learned from this project is that Kernza has a very high forage quality in the spring cut of the first year, though cutting in the spring does seem to compromise grain yield.  She acknowledged that Kernza grain yields in general are low in comparison to their annual counterpart; they found it was 23-25% of annual wheat in their studies. Yet she and other researchers in their lab remain optimistic as the Kernza breeding program at The Land Institute is making rapid progress, and this crop offers more than just grain.

Kernza, a perennial grain, prior to grain harvest at the Cornell Musgrave Research Farm in Aurora, NY, on August 11, 2016. Photo credit: Sandra Wayman

They’ve also been doing some work on the side with looking at different ways of harvesting, swathing first followed by the combine, for example, as well as exploring the seed cleaning and de-hulling process. When asked about the big challenges that remain with Kernza, Wayman said that the harvesting process remains a challenge, as the seed is so light and as a result they’ve noticed a lot of harvest losses.

The farmers whom Wayman has worked with in New York express both interest and skepticism in perennial grains. She said farmers have concerns over disease, since the Northeast has a moist climate and the perennial nature of Kernza means you don’t rotate as often as with other crops.  Farmers also express concern about weed management in a perennial crop, but she said their research group hasn’t had overwhelming weed problems in their experimental plots yet.

Farmer advisors and Cornell University researchers evaluate a plot of Kernza at the Musgrave Research Farm, July 19, 2016. Photo credit: Matthew Ryan

The Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab will continue to work with three farmers on a new three year project that began in September of 2016, in which grain yield, soil health and weed competition will be evaluated.  They also hope to begin consulting with brewers, distillers and bakers who will test grain from the project.

The results of these projects are particularly valuable as Cornell University is one of the few institutions in the Northeast conducting research on Kernza.  You can read more and see results from their research in this Newsletter, or check out their lab website.

For more information contact Sandra Wayman, sw783@cornell.edu.

De-hulled Kernza grain (left), harvested from plots in Aurora, NY and a can of the first commercially available product made from Kernza grain (right). Photo credit: Chris Pelzer

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