Ceres Funded On-Farm Perennial Wheat Project

Year-end report for Ceres Trust Grant  (2013)

Title: Fostering complex soil food webs and building soil fertility with organic production: perennial wheat PHASE TWO

Principal Investigator: Sieglinde Snapp, Soil and Cropping Systems Ecologist, Professor, Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences and Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, 3700 East Gull Lake Drive, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, snapp@msu.edu

Co-Principal Investigator: Vicki Morrone, Organic Vegetable and Field Crop Outreach Specialist, Michigan State University, sorrone@msu.edu


Lee and Linda Purdy, Farmer Educator, Westwind Milling and Organic Grain Farmers, West central Michigan

Howard Straub, Farmer Educator, Rotational Grazer Livestock Farmer Central Michigan


Vicki Morrone hand Planting Perennial Wheat and treatments on-farm near Battle Creek, MI. (photo by Sieg Snapp)

Four field locations in central and Southwest Michigan, ranging in size from 50-100 ft rows. Four rows of each crop: 2 lines of perennial wheat: P-15 and P-19, 3-4 varieties of annual wheat (Red Devil, Hopewell, Frankenmuth, and farmers choice), Intermediate wheat grass).


Objective 1. To expand farmer involvement through establishing on-farm experiments and expanded outreach through field days, website and educational materials.


The focus of this year’s work was to create the opportunity for organic field crop farmers to be encouraged and supported to grow perennial wheat on their farms. This expands engagement with farmers, to understand more about both potential benefits and constraints to adoption of this new type of crop. It also provides an opportunity to test performance of lines of perennial wheat and intermediate wheatgrass on a range of farms, including different soil types and management practices.


Organic Farmer Educational Meetings

Twenty five organic grain farmers were invited to participate in this study and asked to attend two workshops that included a visit to KBS perennial grain plots, discussion about protocol and expectations, and a brain storming session to identify possible solutions to potential challenges such as weed management and good stand establishment.

Of the twenty-five farmers a total of eight farmers were strongly interested in participating in the on-farm research. The primary reason that some farmers chose not to be involved in on-farm experiments, at this point in time, was the fear of inability to control weeds in this new crop type. Based on these responses we held a round table discussion with the farmers interested in trying out perennial wheat on-farm to discuss the challenges and identify possible options for land preparation and cover and inter crops to reduce weeds.


These best options put forward for weed control in perennial grain crops by farmers were synthesized and shared with each participating farmer. Farmers were all given the choice to implement the trial (comparing perennial wheat lines) as they felt was most appropriate for their farm, using an approach that matched their management practices.

  • Four Michigan certified organic farms have planted perennial wheat following the trial protocol.
  • Two lines of perennial wheat were included in all of the trials, the ones that have shown most promise for strong regrowth and production in Michigan. (P15, P 19)
  • Kernza (Intermediate wheatgrass) was included as well
  • Annual wheat: 2-3 varieties were chosen based on farmers’ selection from among those grown by organic farmers including Red Devil, Frankenmuth, Hopewell. All seed was untreated and Red Devil and Hopewell were certified organic varieties. Frankenmuth is no longer available commercially so had to be sourced from the MSU wheat plant breeding group.


Each farmer participant completed an intake interview with Morrone prior to planting of perennial wheat. The objective of the interview was to learn about the farmers’ management styles to establish the perennial wheat and what are each of their goals and expectations for this grain, as a trial and as a potential crop.


Objective 2.  Extend the on-farm field trials to conduct multi-year investigations of yield, forage and root growth of perennial grains.


On-farm Trial Sites

The four sites will allow us to evaluate perennial wheat on different soils and under various organic management regimes. Since all soil managed organically is NOT created equal we chose farmers that have been practicing organically for several years and who are savvy on how to building soil for the short and long term. We expect to see differences compared to Kellogg Biological Station, where the soil is sandy to sandy loam and has been managed organically for three years (it was just certified this past year by GOA).

This spring and summer (2014) we will compare the two lines of perennial wheat within each field and compare the trials to each based on emergence in spring, biomass of each crop and variety, yield of each per 20 ft row, date of maturity and grain size.


Characteristics of Perennial wheat sought by On-Farm Participants

The four participating farmers differ from one another in terms of their farming goals and we show here the key characteristics that farmers expressed interest in testing the grain for, from the lines grown in the on-farm trial:

  1. Pasture and some feed grain
  2. Milling for baking flour
  3. Wheat berries as a whole food (baking and wheat grass)
  4. Multipurpose use of the perennial grain (pasture and grain)


Each farmer will be asked to evaluate their perennial wheat crops based on their goals. Grain and fodder (hay) will be analyzed for the respective uses across all farms.  These analyses will include grain protein, hay protein and fiber for animal feed (what are these tests called), and baking quality evaluation.


Planned Field Days

In the summer the Perennial Wheat team, including the collaborating farmers will offer community field days. The four field sites will be used for field demonstrations and our MSU educators will be assisted to create a field day at each site. Note the enclosed map that indicates the farm sites, this will provide opportunities for farmers to see this crop growing on an organic farm, in the area.



Objective 3. Continue soil biology monitoring and add new measurements to assess soil microbial diversity under organic management.

Soil monitoring was carried out in the long-term experiment where we are comparing intermediate wheatgrass and annual wheat under organic management, and under conventional N fertilizer management. We took deep soil cores in order to measure soil organic matter at five depths from the topsoil to 1 meter deep in the soil, and froze samples for DNA analysis as well to understand soil microbial diversity. We also took soil quality measurements such as water stable aggregates and active carbon, so we will be able to understand how a perennial grain crop under organic management influences a wide range of soil biological properties, and soil health. The laboratory analyses have been initiated and preliminary results should be available next summer.


Outreach and Outputs


Symposium & Poster Session

During the 2013 American Society of Agronomy Meetings held in Tampa Florida, Nov 3-7 the Perennial Grain Work Group convened its first Symposium and Poster Session. Snapp and Morrone, co-chairs and initiators of the working group, established in 2012, organized this working group and presentations. The impetus for this working group was greatly driven by the Ceres Trust Grant and allowed up to not only present specifically on this work but also extend the research questions to our counterparts, across the globe. The symposium included our keynote, Len Wade from Charles Sturt University in Australia and several perennial grain research stars from key institutions across the United States. The sessions presented were as follows:


Perennial Grain Development Community-Presided by Dr Sieg Snapp-Michigan State University  held on Monday, November 4, 2013:

8:30 AM–Introductory Remarks–8:40 AM–Food Security, Productivity Tradeoffs and Benefits Beyond Yield With Perennial Grains. presented by Len J. Wade, Charles Sturt University

9:25 AM–Perennial Roots: A Key Driver to Ecosystem Stability and Long Term Yield.

S. Tianna DuPont, The Pennsylvania State University; Joshua Beniston, Ohio State University;Steven W. Culman, University California-Davis; Jerry Glover, US Agency for International Development; Amanda Hodson, University of California at Davis; Rattan Lal, The Ohio State University; Howard Ferris, University of California-Davis


9:55 AM–Progress in Developing Kernza Wheatgrass As a Perennial Grain.

Lee R. DeHaan, The Land Institute


10:15 AM–Selection Considerations for Polyculture Development.

Douglas J. Cattani, University of Manitoba


10:35 AM–Perennial Wheat: A Multipurpose Cover Crop for the Midwest.

Sieglinde S. Snapp, Michigan State University; Vicki L. Morrone, Michigan State University;Sienna Tinsley, Michigan State University; Steven W. Culman, University California-Davis; Nikhil jaikumar, Michigan State University


10:55 AM–Beyond Perennial Grain Feasibility and Proof-of-Concept: Next Steps.

Jerry Glover, US Agency for International Development


To compliment the oral presentations we hosted a poster symposium entitled, “Polyculture and Perennial Grains For Sustainable Agriculture.

**Poster Session Over 55 society members attended the session and asked questions that not only will help guide us to create the next symposium with this working group but also strengthen our research.

In addition to the symposium featuring perennial wheat research we also sponsored a Poster Session and New Scientist Round Table Discussion. Over twentyfive attended this session to share their experiences and ideas to further perennial grain research and development, across the globe. Note that Snapp presented the perennial wheat research funded by you during the symposium and Morrone presented work with perennial wheat and farmers perceptions in the perennial grain poster session.


Perennial Wheat Extension Bulletin

A perennial wheat extension bulletin is in its final phase of edits with MSU extension communication team so that it can be shared during the upcoming stream for this winter’s meetings, targeted at Michigan and Midwest Farmers. This bulletin will serve as an introduction to perennial wheat and its potential. We realized early in the project that given the high level of excitement about this crop type, it is important to provide information on initial performance which is a cautionary tale, as much improved lines are needed that are more stable and vigorous regrowing types as well as better yielding types.

Bulletin distribution

We will be sharing this bulletin at MOSES during Snapp and Morrone’s presentation entitled ‘Multipurpose Perennial Grains for Your Farm’. In addition, Morrone will provide this bulletin to Michigan’s Organic Farmer Group, Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance (MOFFA) and Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) to share during their educational sessions with organic and sustainable farmers.


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About Vicki Morrone

I work with farmers and researchers to bring together science and application of perennial grains, especially Kernza, also known as intermediate wheat grass. Share your information and we can post on this site.

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