Intermediate wheatgrass Kernza® established in the SITES Agroecological Field Experiment (SAFE) for long-term agroecosystems research in Sweden

Linda-Maria Mårtensson, Maria Ernfors and Erik Steen Jensen
Cropping Systems Ecology
, Department of Biosystems and Technology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)
P.O. Box 103, SE-23053 Alnarp, Sweden

The Swedish Infrastructure for Ecosystem Science (SITES) was established in 2013, with the aim of promoting long-term, field-based ecosystem research at world-class level in Sweden for interested scientists globally. The infrastructure consists of nine research stations, covering terrestrial and limnic systems in a climatic range from alpine sites in the north to temperate sites in the south. One of the participating research stations, SITES Lönnstorp (SLU campus Alnarp between Lund and Malmö in southern Sweden) is a resource for agricultural research in conventional and organic cropping systems. At SITES Lönnstorp a new long-term field experiment; the SITES Agroecological Field Experiment (SAFE) has been established, focusing on cropping system diversification, agroecological systems, biodiversity, biogeochemistry and research on ecosystem services in agroecosystems. The SAFE experiment consists of four replicated cropping systems with large plots to allow for experiments and manipulations within the different systems. The long-term approach and the contrasts between the cropping systems will provide unique possibilities for research within ecology, agronomy, agroecology, environmental research and other disciplines, particularly for projects related to climate change, sustainability and ecosystem resilience. The SAFE at Lönnstorp is accessible for any researcher from all over the world. Basic running costs of the facility are covered by the Swedish Research Council and SLU and scientists interested in doing experiment within the systems will have to cover the cost of their specific studies, but will have access to basic data from the SAFE experiment.

At Lönnstorp the SAFE agroecosystems are: (1) a reference cropping  system corresponding to a contemporary conventional crop rotation with winter sown wheat, sugar beet, oil seed rape and spring barley followed by grass-legume ley as cover crop; (2) an organic 8-year crop rotation corresponding to Swedish/EU organic agricultural certification with spring barley/lupine intercrop – winter rye in-sown with ley – grass-legume ley – reed beet – phacelia – faba bean/spring wheat intercrop, winter oil seed rape, winter wheat in-sown with ley – grass-legume ley; (3) an agroforestry and more diversified  system following the crop rotation in the organic system in alleys between hedgerows with a mix of perennial species and rows of Apple trees; and (4) a perennial cropping system with intermediate  wheat grass (Kernza®) with and without alfalfa (Medicago sativa, Lucerne) as intercrop. The Cropping Systems Ecology Research group at SLU is collaborating with The Land Institute in Kansas.

Kernza before maturity, August 2015. Photo: Linda-Maria Mårtensson

An ongoing project on N dynamics in perennial cereal based cropping system, where Kernza is used as a model plant, studies

  • the total N acquisition,
  • allocation of N and C between reproductive and vegetative parts,
  • the relative N acquisition from soil and biological N2 fixation in intercrops of Kernza and Lucerne, incl. the potential transfer of N from Lucerne to Kernza, and
  • potential soil inorganic N leaching during the autumn and winter after harvest of Kernza, with winter wheat used for comparison.

For more information and access to SAFE, please contact:

Kernza field in August 2015 at Lönnstorp, Sweden. Photo: Linda-Maria Mårtensson