Exploring the production costs, utility, and value of by-products in Kernza® perennial grain production

Progress report for FNC22-1331

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,980.00
Projected End Date: 07/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Brandon and Morgan Kaufman
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Brandon Kaufman
Brandon and Morgan Kaufman
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Brandon Kaufman grows a diverse set of crops that includes non-GMO corn, soy, sorghum, soybeans, wheat and rye. He grows cover crops on as many acres as possible and grazes grass-fed beef on those acres. He has been growing Kernza(R) since 2018.

Schlautman Farms has a forage production and cow-calf operation and grass-fed beef direct marketing business. They have been growing Kernza(R) since 2018.

Marc Peters has a conventional corn and soybean operation. He has been incorporating cover crops into his fields since 2020 and using strip-tillage since 2020. He planted Kernza(R) for the first time in 2020.


Kernza® perennial grain is in the early stages of adoption and commercialization. Kernza® production, because of its continuous living roots, promises to contribute to an economically sound agriculture system for the north central region. But for now, Kernza® grain yields remain lower than wheat, markets are underdeveloped, and little information exists about potential uses for byproducts created during Kernza® production, cleaning, and milling. This proposal investigates whether byproducts could play an important role in contributing to the economic viability of Kernza® production without reducing the ecosystem services provided. Specifically, we test in on-farm demonstration trials whether summer straw/residue baling and removal - which results in nutrient export - affects subsequent grain yields, forage yields, and soil health status. Furthermore, we measure the yields and quality of potential byproducts (i.e. summer residue, fall forage, hulls/screenings, and bran/midlings) and test whether the quality and value of those byproducts can be increased by ammoniating straw bales, grazing vs. haying fall forage, and milling/pelletizing hulls. We will share results and information we learn with other farmers/ranchers by creating fact sheets and hosting field days so that it can become collective knowledge and contribute to improved quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities.

Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate the yield and quality of byproducts during Kernza® perennial grain production including:
    1. Summer straw/residue and fall forage grazed, hayed, or ammoniated
    2. Loose and pelleted Kernza® hulls/screenings 
    3. Kernza® bran/middlings
  2. Determine whether grain yield, forage yield, or soil health status during Kernza® perennial grain production is affected by summer straw removal.
  3. Host on-farm field days and share findings through fact-sheets and websites.


Materials and methods:

Field Trials (2023 season):

Brandon Kaufman: Brandon's field (Moundridge, KS) had two treatments for summer residue management: nothing (i.e. no haying, tillage, burning, grazing, etc.) or light tillage with an offset disc.  Baseline soil samples were taken (0-6 inch depth) and submitted to RegenAg Labs for the Haney Test. This field (all treatments) will be grazed in winter 2023-2024.

Marc Peters: Marc's field (Hampton, NE) had two treatments for summer residue management: swathing and baling or no residue management. Baseline soil samples were taken from each experimental unit and submitted to RegenAg Labs for the Haney Test. Forage quality samples were taken from the baled summer residue and the total number of bales were counted and weighed. This field (all treatments) will be grazed in winter 2023.

Schlautman Farms: Their field had a single treatment for summer residue management (swathing and baling) and two separate treatments for fall residue management: an additional cutting of hay or no additional forage harvest. Forage quality samples were taken from the baled summer residue and the total number of bales were counted and weighed.

Post Processing Trials:

Ammoniating Bales (Marc Peters): Large round bales were weighed, stacked in a pyramid shape, and covered and sealed with a silage tarp. Ammonia was inserted beneath the sileage tarp and, to the extent possible, added to bring the CP level of the summer residue to 9%. Core samples of ammoniated bales will be sent for forage analysis in a few weeks.

Kernza Hulls/Screenings (all growers): About 5000lbs of Kernza hulls + screenings (stems, leaves, some small broken grain) were delivered to the Kansas State feed mill. They will be pelletizing Kernza hulls/screenings and running feed quality analyses in early 2024.

Kernza Bran (all growers): Dehulled Kernza will be taken to the Hal Ross Mill (Kansas State University) in early 2024 to be milled into flour and to pass over a 20 mesh sieve. Resulting bran and flour will be tested for nutrient content.


Research results and discussion:

Drought negatively affected our research and decision making in 2023 growing season. It prevented us from accomplishing some of our research goals related to grain production, but perhaps highlighted the dual-purpose value of Kernza perennial grain production and the importance of the by-products this project intended to evaluate.

Specifically, Brandon Kaufman did not harvest any grain in 2023. The incredibly dry 2022-2023 winter caused the ponds to dry up in his normal warm-season summer pastures. His intermediate wheatgrass was grazed from April 20 to June 5 and equated to approximately 2.5 animal units per acre. He was calving on the intermediate wheatgrass during this time. Although there were very low yields, hay was more than $250/ton at the time.

Schlautman farms also did not harvest any grain in 2023. They chose to bale all their IWG+alfalfa hay on June 26, 2023 when Kernza was in the milk stage. The total yield on 36 acres was 45.9 tons (66 bales at 1390lb/bale) which was about 1.26 ton/acre.

Marc Peters field had significant lodging on about 20% of the field. He elected to swath and use a pickup header for grain harvest this year which likely reduced both the yield and quality of the summer residue he harvested.

Summer Forage Yield and Quality:

Marc Peters had 133 large round bales harvested on 35 acres that averaged 1140lbs each, which equaled ~ 2.2 US ton per acre of post harvest residue. Core samples of Marc's bales were sent to Dairyland labs and tested at 5.9% crude protein and 51.1 % TDN. 

Schlautman Farms took a second cutting of intermediate wheatgrass + alfalfa hay in mid-August. This cutting yielded 11 bales averaging 1580lb for a total of 8.7 ton or 0.25 ton/acre. They did not take a fall cutting of hay because the regrowth was even poorer than what was available in August.

Kernza(R) perennial grain yields:

Brandon Kaufman harvested ~0 lbs clean and dehulled grain on 22 dryland acres

Marc Peters harvested ~ 16,800 lbs clean and dehulled grain on 35 harvested irrigated acres, which was approximately 480 lbs/acre.

Schlautman Farms harvested ~ 0 lb clean and dehulled certified organic grain on 36 dryland acres.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

22 Farmers participated
7 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Marc Peters hosted a field day at his farm on September 10, 2022.  Approximately 22 farmers and 7 agriculture professionals attended. Agriculture professionals included independent agronomists, a University of Nebraska Lincoln extension agent, and field agents from the Upper Big Blue River Natural Research District.

Marc Peters described the Kernza(R) management practices he used in his field (irrigation, fertility, and implements used during planting/harvest). Brandon Schlautman and Joel Schlautman attended and described their Kernza(R) + alfalfa intercropping field and presented data about summer 2022 forage yields/quality.

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.