Twenty farmers establish perennial grain crops on a total of 400 acres, replacing conventionally tilled grains and thus reducing soil erosion by an average of 2 tons/acre/year, and contributing to the creation of a new niche market and sale of 150 tons of perennial grain in the Northeast.
We will test three hypotheses: 1) Transitioning fields used for annual grain crop production to perennial grain crop production increases soil health; 2) Intercropping legume forage crops with perennial grain crops reduces need for nitrogen inputs compared to perennial grain monocultures; and 3) Swathing increases perennial grain quality and reduces harvest losses compared to direct cut combine harvesting.
Materials and Methods: On-farm
On-farm research focused on comparing intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye production in strip trials. In each trial, farmers used their own equipment for planting and harvesting. Strip trials were planted on three farms between September 9 and 21, 2016, and one of the trials was replanted on August 30, 2017 (Tables 1 and 2). Approximately 30 days after planting we counted emerged seedlings. We quantified crop density again between April 21 and 28, 2017 to evaluate crop establishment. We sampled the strips for soil health at the start of the project between October 10 and 26, 2016. Samples were submitted to the Cornell Soil Health Lab.
On Farm 1, the intermediate wheatgrass strip received 70 lb/ac of Chilean nitrate (15-0-2) applied with a spinner spreader on May 15, 2018. Farm 2 applied 2000 lb/ac of poultry manure (3-5-2) to the intermediate wheatgrass strip and to the perennial cereal rye strip on March 27, 2018. Farmer 3 applied 400 lb/ac Chilean nitrate (15-0-2) to the intermediate wheatgrass strip and 60 lb/ac Chilean nitrate (15-0-2) to the perennial cereal rye strip on May 2, 2018. Farmer 3 chose to use his standard spring fertilizer application rate for small grains when applying fertilizer to the perennial cereal rye.
In 2019, Farmer 1 decided not to fertilize the strips, providing the explanation that the low yield did not justify the fertilizer costs. On Farm 2, 266 lb/ac of Chilean nitrate (15-0-2) was spread on the intermediate wheatgrass strip on April 4, 2019. Farmer 3 applied 100 lb/ac of Chilean nitrate (15-0-2) to the intermediate wheatgrass strip on April 9, 2019. Perennial cereal rye strips were not fertilized in 2019, due to poor regrowth and a decision to discontinue the project with this crop.
Strips were harvested for grain or mowed using each farmer’s equipment in 2017, 2018, and 2019 (Tables 1 and 2). Grain samples were collected from harvested material and were sent to Great Plains Analytical Laboratory and to University of Minnesota for analysis of protein, ash, falling number, ergot and DON content.
On August 14, 2019, intermediate wheatgrass crop biomass, seed heads, and weed biomass were collected from all three farms. Samples were dried until constant weight and weighed. On October 10, 2019, the intermediate wheatgrass strips were sampled for soil health and samples submitted to the Cornell Soil Health Lab.
Table 1. Planting, equipment, and harvest details for intermediate wheatgrass for three on-farm strip trials.
|Farm||Equipment||Planting Date||Actual seeding rate (lb/ac)||Area covered (ac)||Replanted?||Drill Setting||Seedlot||Harvest 2017||Harvest 2018||Harvest 2019
|Farm 1||Amazone Airstar Prafi||9/21/16||15||0.40||NA||0||TLI Cycle 4||Mowed for forage in July||Harvested for grain||Mowed for forage|
|Farm 2||Case III 5400 No-till Drill||9/15/16||14||1||8/30/17 using Brillion, 17 lb/ac||12||TLI Cycle 4, replanted with seed harvested from Musgrave farm||Mowed for weed control||Harvested for grain||Harvested for grain|
|Farm 3||10-foot IH5300 grain drill||9/9/16||23||0.73||NA||12||TLI Cycle 4||Mowed for weed control||Mowed at harvest time||Mowed for weed control|
Table 2. Planting, equipment, and harvest details for perennial cereal rye for three on-farm strip trials. Perennial cereal rye was not harvested in 2019.
|Farm||Equipment||Planting Date||Actual seeding rate (lb/ac)||Area covered (ac)||Drill Setting||Seedlot||Harvest 2017||Harvest 2018|
|Farm 1||Amazone Airstar Prafi||9/21/16||50||0.80||6||“Archaya”||Mowed for forage in July||Poor stand/weedy, not harvested|
|Farm 2||Case III 5400 No-till Drill||9/15/16||51||0.83||12||“Larsen”||Harvested with CASE IH 1666||Too weedy to harvest|
|Farm 3||10-foot IH5300 grain drill||9/9/16||95||0.55||12||“Larsen”||Harvested with Gleaner||Mowed at harvest time|
Materials and Methods: Musgrave Research Farm
This experiment compared two annual small grains (winter wheat and winter malting barley) and two perennial grains (intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye). We also examined the influence of interseeding each grain crop with red clover. These treatments were selected to compare the two most promising perennial grain crops to two of the most popular annual grain crops that farmers are currently growing in the region. The experiment was set up as a split-plot randomized complete block with four replications, with grain crop as the main plot treatment (80 x 20 ft) and interseeded red clover as the split-plot treatment (80 x 10 ft).
The experiment was established at the Musgrave Research Farm in Aurora NY in 2016. All crops were seeded in early September 2016 using a grain drill with 7.5 inch row spacing. Red clover was frost seeded in March 2017 and again in March 2018 at 15 lb seed per acre. Plots were fertilized with 500 lb/ac of 5-4-3 composted poultry manure at the time of planting. In both 2017 and 2018, plots were fertilized with 800 lb/ac of 5-4-3-composted poultry manure in the spring and 800 lb/ac of 5-4-3 composted poultry manure in the fall. Wheat and barley plots were re-planted in the same plots in fall 2017 after harvest. Although planting wheat after wheat and barley after barley is not recommended, this approach provided a more straightforward comparison to the perennial grains, which are grown continuously for multiple years.
Weed biomass, crop biomass, and grain heads were sampled on July 17 and 18, 2017 and July 11, 2018. Two 5.4 ft2 quadrats were sampled in each plot, with all weeds larger than 1-inch in diameter clipped at ground level and separated by species. Weed biomass was dried in a 150 °F oven for a minimum of 72 hours and weighed. Data were analyzed using ANOVA in R version 3.1.3.
Average intermediate wheatgrass plant densities 30 days after planting were 118,000, and 446,800 plants/ac for Farms 2, and 3, respectively (data are not available for Farm 1). Average perennial cereal rye plant densities 30 days after planting were 289,500, 356,900, and 795,300 plants/ac for Farms 1, 2, and 3, respectively. By spring 2017, the average density of intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye plants decreased. Average intermediate wheatgrass plant densities in April 2017 were 348,000, 182,700, and 455,300 plants/ac for Farms 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Average perennial cereal rye plant densities in April 2017 were 261,400, 309,100, and 528,300 plants/ac for Farms 1, 2, and 3, respectively.
Farm 1: In 2017, the farmer harvested both intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye for forage on July 6, using a disc mower set to cut at 4 to 6-inch height, which produced eight round bales of forage from the 1.6 ac area. There were harvest complications with the intermediate wheatgrass in 2018 and thus yields cannot be reported. In 2018, the perennial cereal rye strip was mowed down on June 15, due to poor performance. On August 14, 2019, intermediate wheatgrass plant biomass was 266 lb/ac dry weight with an estimated 3 lb/ac yield of hulled grain. One of the important conclusions from the on-farm trials is that intermediate wheatgrass may not succeed in very wet fields or in fields with strong weed pressure, like the field on Farm 1. In September 2019, the farmer mowed the intermediate wheatgrass strip for forage, which yielded about 2.5 tons/ac (including weeds).
Farm 2: In 2017, the intermediate wheatgrass stand was too weedy to be harvested for grain, so the farmer mowed it in early June to reduce weed seed production. The intermediate wheatgrass stand was replanted on August 30, 2017. The perennial cereal rye at Farm 2 was harvested on August 9, 2017 with a CASE IH 1666 combine and yielded about 400 lb grain (uncleaned) in total from the 0.83 acre, translating to 602 lb/ac yield. In 2018, the farmer discontinued the perennial cereal rye strip due to extremely poor re-growth of plants after the first year’s harvest. Intermediate wheatgrass was harvested on August 20, 2018 with a Case IH 1666 combine, yielding 109 lb/ac cleaned and de-hulled grain (0% moisture). On August 14, 2019, intermediate wheatgrass biomass was 3,261 lb/ac dry weight with an estimated 112 lb/ac yield of hulled grain. The intermediate wheatgrass was harvested on August 30, 2019 with a Case IH 1666 combine, yielding about 1000 lb of uncleaned grain from the 1 acre strip. As of the writing of this report, the 2019 intermediate wheatgrass harvest lot is waiting on an opening in the new industrial grain cleaning operation of Farmer 1 to be cleaned.
Farm 3: In 2017, the intermediate wheatgrass was too weedy to be harvested, and the farmer mowed it on September 2. Intermediate wheatgrass biomass and weed biomass were collected in mid-August 2017 before mowing. Average crop biomass was 1,960 lb/ac (dry weight) and average weed biomass was 2,530 lb/ac (dry weight). This stand of intermediate wheatgrass was not replanted. Perennial cereal rye crop and weed biomass were collected before harvest mid-August 2017. Perennial cereal rye biomass was 9,090 lb/ac (dry weight) and average weed biomass was 1,170 lb/ac (dry weight). The perennial cereal rye was harvested September 2, 2017 with a Gleaner F3 combine and was the most successful of all the on-farm trials, yielding 1,400 lb/ac. In 2018, neither the perennial cereal rye nor the intermediate wheatgrass were harvested on Farm 3 due to the combine breaking, followed by heavy precipitation, making field entry impossible. On August 14, 2019, intermediate wheatgrass biomass was 1,346 lb/ac dry weight with an estimated 59 lb/ac yield of hulled grain. In 2019, the farmer did not harvest either strip because the combine that he used for small areas was broken. The farmer hopes to plant a larger acreage of intermediate wheatgrass in the future so that there would be sufficient grain volume to fill his standard combine, and explained that his standard combine needs to have its cylinders full to work correctly.
Aggregate stability increased under intermediate wheatgrass between 2016 and 2019 on all farms, except for Farm 3 where it decreased only marginally (Tables 3, 4). Aggregate stability of the soil is improved by having a perennial crop in place over multiple seasons, in addition to the lack of tillage. Good aggregate stability helps preserve soil against erosion and also benefits root growth and water infiltration.
Unexpectedly, soil organic matter decreased in all fields under intermediate wheatgrass in the period from the start to the end of the experiment (Tables 3, 4). Many diverse factors influence soil organic matter, including carbon inputs and removal from the field, management history, the level of microbial activity, and soil bulk density. Soil bulk density in all three fields increased from 2016-2019, which may have had a dilution effect on the organic matter. Specifically, soil appears to have compacted from the time of sampling after planting and plowing in 2016, to the time of sampling in 2019. More compact soil means that sampling would capture soil deeper in the profile, which is likely to have lower amounts of organic matter. These results suggest that more research is necessary to better elucidate the effect of intermediate wheatgrass on soil organic matter, including developing carbon budgets for research fields.
Soil respiration, a measure of the metabolic activity of the soil microbes, was highest at Farm 3 in 2019, compared with the other two farms (Table 4). The Cornell Soil Health Lab advises that 1.05 mg is a “very high” rating for soils of this texture, and that the ratings given to Farm 1 and Farm 2 were “medium”. Active carbon, a measure of the most available organic matter for soil microbes, increased in all fields from 2016 to 2019. Soil pH for all three fields was considered in the optimum range. Phosphorus was rated in the “medium” range on Farm 1, and “very high” on Farms 2 and 3. Potassium was considered “very high” on all three farms. Finally, the micronutrients magnesium, iron, manganese, and zinc were deemed sufficient in all three fields.
Table 3. Soil health parameters in October 2016 for intermediate wheatgrass on three farms.
|Farm||Aggregate stability (%)||Organic matter (%)||Respiration (mg)||Active carbon (ppm)||pH||Phosphorus (ppm)||Potassium (ppm)||Magnesium (ppm)||Iron (ppm)||Manganese (ppm)||Zinc (ppm)|
Table 4. Soil health parameters in October 2019 for intermediate wheatgrass on three farms.
|Farm||Aggregate stability (%)||Organic matter (%)||Respiration (mg)||Active carbon (ppm)||pH||Phosphorus (ppm)||Potassium (ppm)||Magnesium (ppm)||Iron (ppm)||Manganese (ppm)||Zinc (ppm)|
The poor establishment of the intermediate wheatgrass at all three farms may be due to incorrect seeding depth and the drought conditions in early fall 2016 when the trials were planted. Weed competition also likely contributed to the lower than expected production. At one of the farms, ergot and Puccinia graminis, a stem rust, were detected in the intermediate wheatgrass trial.
Results: Musgrave Research Farm
Intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye produced sufficient crop biomass to be considered for use as a dual-purpose forage and grain crop (Fig 1). Intermediate wheatgrass produced around 3,750 lb/ac crop biomass in both 2017 and 2018, then exhibited an increase in production to more than 7,000 lb/ac in 2019. Perennial cereal rye produced 7,000 to 8,000 lb/ac of biomass in the first year, but production declined substantially in the second year.
Although no difference was observed between intercropped and monoculture intermediate wheatgrass biomass, the interseeded red clover suppressed perennial cereal rye biomass production in both years compared with perennial cereal rye planted alone (Fig 1). In 2018, wheat and barley planted with red clover produced more crop biomass than wheat and barley planted alone; this difference was not observed in wheat plots in 2019.
The two perennial crops produced lower grain yields in the second year of the experiment compared with the first year (Fig 2). Intermediate wheatgrass grain yields increased, however, in the third year when compared to the second, which was unexpected as other studies have shown intermediate wheatgrass yields to consistently decline with stand age. We hypothesize that this difference was driven by poor weather conditions in 2018 and good conditions in 2019. In both 2018 and 2019, grain yields of annual crops were greater than those of perennial crops. Barley yields were higher in the second year compared with barley yields in the first year, likely due to less winter-kill in 2018.
In 2018 and 2019, grain yields of annual crops were higher in plots interseeded with red clover compared to monoculture plots (Fig 2), likely due to N from the previous year’s clover that was plowed under before planting. In 2018, grain yield of perennial cereal rye was lower in plots with red clover compared to plots without red clover. We hypothesize that vigorous competition from clover contributed to this difference, although yields declined precipitously in all perennial rye plots from 2017 to 2018.
In 2017, weed biomass was lower in intermediate wheatgrass and barley plots interseeded with red clover compared to those without red clover, and weed biomass was consistently low across all perennial cereal rye and wheat plots (Fig 3). In 2018, intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye plots interseeded with red clover had lower weed biomass compared to plots without clover. In 2019, the relationship between interseeded red clover and reduced weed biomass was again observed in intermediate wheatgrass plots. Based on these results it appears that interseeding with red clover can have a suppressive effect on weeds in perennial grain crops.
Grain Quality Grain samples from the first two years of this project, from on-farm trials that were successfully harvested and from the Cornell Musgrave Research Farm intermediate wheatgrass production field, were sent to the Great Plains Analytical Laboratory (MO) for quality testing. Parameters included falling number, ash, protein, 1000 kernel weight, and ergot (Table 5). Ergot was detected in the 2018 harvest of intermediate wheatgrass from Farm 2. The intermediate wheatgrass samples had higher protein and ash than did the perennial cereal rye samples (Table 5).
Table 5. Grain quality results from on-farm and Cornell Musgrave Research Farm production fields for intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye.
|Perennial Grain Crop||Year/Farm||1000 Kernel Weight (grams)||Ergot (%)||Ash (%)||Falling Number (seconds)||Protein N (%)|
|Intermediate wheatgrass||2015 Musgrave||< 10.00||0||2.031||227||15.83|
|Intermediate wheatgrass||2016/2017 Musgrave||< 10.00||0||2.056||183||14.93|
|Intermediate wheatgrass||2018 Musgrave||< 10.00||0||2.08||69||15.53|
|Intermediate wheatgrass||2018 Farm 2||< 10.00||0.4||2.169||146||16.82|
|Perennial cereal rye||2017 Farm 2||25.41||0||1.742||197||11.05|
|Perennial cereal rye||2017 Farm 3||29.17||0||1.569||157||10.79|
|Perennial cereal rye||2018 Musgrave||29.83||0||1.576||86||12.01|
The main approach of our education program is to present at field days, lead field tours, and host farmer-researcher meetings with farmer-to-farmer learning as the primary knowledge pathway. We use email networks, meetings, conferences, field days, and our website to distribute information about perennial grains. Topics covered include planting, intercropping with legumes, weed and pest management, harvesting, and dehulling grain. We also address soil health benefits, grain quality, economics of perennial grain crop production, harvesting and threshing/cleaning challenges, and lower grain yield compared with annual crops.
Farmers tried growing perennial grains on their farms and were provided with perennial grain seed and management recommendations. We maintain a continuous conversation with the participating farmers over the course of the project about perennial grain management via telephone calls, email, and site visits.
1,000 grain farmers in New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Ohio learn about our project and education opportunities with perennial grains through email networks, meetings, and newsletters.
- Our article, “Perennial Grain Crop Production in New York State” was published December 7, 2016 in the ‘What’s Cropping Up’ Newsletter, which described research from our group on perennial grains, and introduced the project.
- A year after being posted, the article on the website received 142 page views.
- The true extent that the article reached is hard to estimate, because it was emailed to stakeholders, including Franklin Egan of PASA, Kat Carestio of NOFA-NY, Jude Maul of USDA-ARS Beltsville, and the group at Plovgh, a group that handles distributing novel agriculture products, who then may have passed it on to others. This article was shared as a link on the Perennial Grains Blog Site (http://pwheat.anr.msu.edu/).
- Project coordinators Sandra Wayman and Matt Ryan gave a field presentation in our field of intermediate wheatgrass on perennial grains, “Perennial Grain Crop Production: Novel grain crops to regenerate soil and augment grain production in the Northeast”, at the Cornell Musgrave Research Farm Field day on July 14, 2016. We provided attendees a handout about perennial grains, which included details about this project. 167 participants attended.
- Sandra Wayman gave a project update presentation, “Perennial Grains”, at the Wheat Field Day at Cornell University on June 10, 2016. 40 participants attended.
- Sandra Wayman and Eugene Law spoke about the work undertaken within this project at the “Small Grains Management Field Day” June 8, 2017 at the Cornell University Musgrave Research Farm in Aurora, NY. A handout was shared, in addition to plant and grain examples. 90 participants attended.
- Cynthia Bartel, Eugene Law, Sandra Wayman, and Matt Ryan spoke at the Cornell Small Grains Management Field Day about perennial cereal rye at the Musgrave Research Farm on June 7, 2018. 80 participants attended.
- Sandra Wayman shared information about cleaning and dehulling intermediate wheatgrass with researchers at Patagonia Provisions in 2018, who shared this information with a farmer in Sweden who is setting up an intermediate wheatgrass cleaning operation.
- An article on our Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab website (http://blogs.cornell.edu/scslab/perennial-grains/) covered an introduction to perennial grains and our lab’s work with them, and received 35 unique page visits since that website was launched in February 2018.
- Cynthia Bartel presented “Perennials: From groundcovers to grains” (Bartel, C.A., S.V. Archontoulis, A.W. Lenssen, K.J. Moore, I.L. Huber, D.A. Laird, S. Fei, M.R. Ryan, and P.M. Dixon) at the Cornell University Soil and Crop Sciences Section Fall Seminar Series, Ithaca, NY on October 25, 2018. Approximately 80 people were in attendance.
- Eugene Law presented results from the first two years of data from the Musgrave Research Farm perennial/annual grains interseeding experiment for the Cornell Soil and Crop Sciences Department weekly seminar on December 6, 2018. 50 people attended.
200 of these farmers are inspired to learn about perennial grain crop production in the northeast from a presentation at an organic farmer meeting and a distributed article reporting preliminary results from our field research.
- Sandra Wayman presented an introduction to perennial grains and this project, and reported preliminary results to New York State organic grain farmers at the NYCO (New York Certified Organic) Winter Meeting on January 10, 2017, at the Geneva CUAES experiment station to 63 attendees.
- After this meeting, a local organic grain farmer was interested in planting perennial grains on his farm. In August 2017, intermediate wheatgrass was planted on 8.4 acres at his farm.
- Sandra Wayman gave an update on perennial grains at Cornell at the January 9, 2018 New York Certified Organic Winter Meeting at the Geneva CUAES station. Topics covered included on-farm trials, challenges with stand success, harvest challenges, yield, seed size, and forage use. There were 45 grain and dairy farmers in attendance. A discussion about planting intermediate wheatgrass as pasture resulted as part of this meeting.
- Forthcoming on January 17, 2019, we will present a workshop on perennial grains to the farmers of NOFA-NY at the NOFA annual meeting in Syracuse, NY.
100 of the 200 farmers learn about perennial grain crop production, observe mature intermediate wheatgrass and perennial rye ready to be harvested, and learn about market opportunities as part of a small grains workshop at the Cornell University Musgrave Research Farm annual field day. Based on research results, we advise farmers on optimal harvest windows and techniques, post-harvest handling, and economics.
- It is not yet known in the Northeast the best time to harvest perennial grains for ease of combine management and sufficient grain maturation. Thus, before providing education on this topic, we completed a harvest timing trial in August 2017 to help ourselves, our collaborating farmers, and our future farmer beneficiaries to better understand harvest management. This side-project was part of the process towards completing this milestone. We observed maturity of seeds and greenness of rachises of intermediate wheatgrass over time to help determine the best time to harvest the crop (Fig 4). We learned that waiting later in the season may be the best harvest choice as far as crop moisture (Fig 4).
- On July 13, 2018, Sandra Wayman, Matt Ryan, Eugene Law, and Cynthia Bartel presented a workshop on perennial grains at the 2018 Cornell University Musgrave Research Farm Field Day, which included intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye field site visits. The presentation covered our interseeding work with red clover, harvest techniques and yield, field management, and perennial grain dehulling and cleaning. There were 160 farmers in attendance. A hand-out detailing our work with perennial grains was shared with attendees.
- Eugene Law presented a talk entitled, “Comparing Annual and Perennial Small Grain Cropping Systems: Agronomy, Economics, and Soil Health” (Law, E.P., Wayman, S., Pelzer, C.J., Ryan, M.R., and DiTommaso, A.) at the Northeast Plant, Pest, and Soil Conference, January 8-10, 2019, Hunt Valley, MD. ~200 attendees
- A collaborating baker with Wide Awake Bakery (Trumansburg, NY) staffed an educational display about his bakery and the grain from intermediate wheatgrass at the event “Science Center After Dark: Beer & Bread”, at The Sciencenter, Ithaca NY on April 25, 2019. The exhibit included intermediate wheatgrass grain and an educational poster about intermediate wheatgrass. 89 attendees.
- Eugene Law presented a poster, “An Emergy Comparison of Annual and Perennial Small Grain Cropping Systems” (Law, E.P., Wayman, S., Pelzer, C.J., DiTommaso, A., and Ryan, M.R.) at the American Ecological Engineering Society Meeting, June 3-6, 2019, Asheville, NC. ~200 poster viewers.
- Eugene Law, Sandra Wayman, and Matt Ryan presented “Evaluating Kernza, the First Perennial Grain” at the Cornell Musgrave Research Farm Field Day on July 11, 2019. The field tour featured a soil pit (Figure 5) to expose the deep roots of intermediate wheatgrass. Participants were given a hand-out about perennial grains and offered tastes of bread made from intermediate wheatgrass. 117 attendees.
- Eugene Law presented a poster, “Investigation of Soil Carbon Storage and Soil Structure Impacts of ‘Kernza’ Intermediate Wheatgrass” (Law, E., Cagle, J., Godwin, G., Pelzer, C., Wayman, S., Culman, S., and Ryan, M.R.) at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability Research Fellows Symposium, October 28, 2019, Ithaca, NY. ~25 poster viewers
50 of these farmers attend a perennial grain tasting event where eight high profile bakers, distillers, and maltsters share test-products of bread and beverages made from intermediate wheatgrass and perennial rye. At the tasting event, 10 farmers network with suppliers and bakers on future contracts.
- More thorough preparation of intermediate wheatgrass grain than originally expected will be necessary for any large scale uses of flour. We need to develop functional intermediate wheatgrass post-harvest cleaning and dehulling methods before flour could be milled. To clean and dehull our first harvest of intermediate wheatgrass during the winter of 2018, we worked with, and learned from, partners at the Big Flats Plant Materials Center, The New York Seed Improvement Program, The Small Grains Lab at Cornell, Farmer Ground Flour, and our three collaborating farmers. In December 2018, the most successful to-date dehulling of intermediate wheatgrass occurred at Klaas Martens farm, using his Horn Spelt Dehuller. Following this dehulling step with a gravity table is what we recommend as the most efficient preparation of intermediate wheatgrass grain for milling into flour.
- In May 2018, 60 lbs of intermediate wheatgrass grain was ground into whole-meal flour at Farmer Ground Flour on a 30″ Meadows Mill. In June 2018, Wide Awake Bakery made test loaves with 25% intermediate wheatgrass flour (with 75% wheat flour, Fig 6), 50% intermediate wheatgrass flour (with 50% wheat flour, Fig 7), and 100% intermediate wheatgrass flour (Fig 8). Although the 100% intermediate wheatgrass loaf did not rise like a wheat loaf, it had the flavor and texture profile of a traditional German-style dark rye loaf. Other intermediate wheatgrass flour products experimented with by bakers within the Ryan lab have included chocolate chip cookies, crackers, and pretzels.
- Sandra Wayman created a factsheet to share with four local farmers growing intermediate wheatgrass, which details the post-harvest cleaning and dehulling steps, machines, and settings necessary to turn harvested Intermediate wheatgrass into flour. This factsheet was shared with farmers at the winter 2018 advisory board meeting.
- In spring 2018, 300 lbs of perennial cereal rye was sent to Van Brunt Stillhouse in Brooklyn for a test batch of whisky. The product cured in barrels for 7-9 months and the distiller said that the perennial cereal rye made “good” whisky, though not as preferable as his favored standard cereal rye variety, ‘Danko’.
- For the winter 2019 perennial grains advisory board meeting, Wide Awake Bakery provided trials of products from intermediate wheatgrass to the 11 attendees: round loaf with 30% intermediate wheatgrass flour, rectangular German loaf with 100% intermediate wheatgrass flour, shortbread cookies with 50% intermediate wheatgrass flour and 50% almond flour, and both sugar cookies and chocolate cookies with 20% intermediate wheatgrass flour. Tasters considered formulations for these products to be successful.
- In August 2019, a total of 550 lbs of intermediate wheatgrass seed was successfully cleaned by our collaborators at the Farmer Ground flour mill, using a Clipper 3-screen cleaner followed by an Oliver High Capacity gravity table. The cleaned seed was planted onto 18 acres at the Cornell University Mt Pleasant research site in August 2019.
- In August 2019, 150 lbs of cleaned intermediate wheatgrass grain (from Klaas Marten’s Horn dehuller) was successfully ground into flour at the Farmer Ground mill, using a hammer mill.
- We have modified the original plan of hosting a networking/tasting event to take advantage of an opportunity to collaborate with a graduate student and economist in the Applied Economics and Management department at Cornell University to conduct a willingness to pay study on bread made from intermediate wheatgrass flour. We hosted intermediate wheatgrass bread tasting sessions with the goal to understand how bread from intermediate wheatgrass might be received by local consumers. We believe this is a valuable change to our project, because it allows us to better understand how intermediate wheatgrass might be received by local consumers before we work to push any products into the local market.
We collaborated with Nima Homami and Miguel Gomez in the Applied Economics and Management department and the Wide Awake bakery, with guidance from Lee DeHaan of the Land Institute. Two-hundred and twenty participants (local community members and students) were divided into 40-minute sessions on September 14, 21, and 28, and November 1, 2019. Participants blind-tasted four types of bread (15% intermediate wheatgrass, 25% intermediate wheatgrass, and both a spelt and whole wheat control) and bid an amount of money on the variety of bread they preferred. Some participants were given information on the sustainability of intermediate wheatgrass, to determine if this knowledge influenced their willingness to pay. Results suggest that consumers with a higher self-reported interest in the environment were willing to pay more for intermediate wheatgrass bread. There was no preference for bread made with 25% over 15% intermediate wheatgrass flour.
20 farmers are provided with seed and supporting information to plant perennial grain crops on 400 acres.
- Between September 9 and 21, 2016, three farmers in Penn Yan NY, Interlaken NY, and Newfield NY planted a combined 2.1 acres of intermediate wheatgrass and 2.2 acres of perennial cereal rye as part of our on-farm research trials.
- On August 30, 2017, a farmer in Trumansburg NY planted 19 acres of intermediate wheatgrass.
- In August 2018, Ernst Conservation Seeds (Meadville, PA) planted 4 acres of intermediate wheatgrass with an oat nurse crop on their land.
- In August 2018, a farmer in Altamont NY planted four 1/3 acre paddocks of intermediate wheatgrass over which to rotate livestock.
- In September 2018, a farmer in Shelbourne, VT planted 8 acres of intermediate wheatgrass.
- In September 2018, a farmer in Harvard, IL planted two acres of intermediate wheatgrass as a filter strip and adjacent to waterways, and 1.5 acres as a pasture.
- In the future, we will be collaborating with the field crops production manager at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub (Kingston, NY) to grow acreage of intermediate wheatgrass at their facility.
These 20 farmers document perennial grain crops on 400 acres by submitting completed verification information to project staff, and staff document the entry of 150 tons of perennial grain into the northeast market.
- On August 30, 2019, the 4 acre field at Ernst Conservation Seeds was harvested using a Gleaner K combine. They cleaned and dehulled the grain, which resulted in a total of 230 lbs.
- On September 21, 2019, the first sale related to this project of a product made from intermediate wheatgrass grain occurred. A baker with the Wide Awake bakery offered samples of 25% and 15% intermediate wheatgrass bread at the Geneva, NY Farmer’s Market. Eight pan loaves were sold, for $7 each. The baker said costumers “seemed to prefer it over regular whole wheat for sure.”
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Exhibit on Kernza grain and bread at the Ithaca Science Center, April 2019.
Willingness to pay tasting sessions of Kernza flour loaves, fall 2019.
Key areas are: Interest in planting perennial grains, disease in perennial grains, harvest techniques for perennial grains, post-harvest management of perennial grains, cleaning and dehulling techniques for perennial grains, options for milling perennial grains, interest in products baked with perennial grains.
The above key areas were collected via personal conversations with farmers during site visits, at farmer meetings and field days, and over the phone.
Performance Target Outcomes
Farmers establish perennial grain crops and stakeholders develop a new market for perennial grain crop products in the northeast.
400 acres of agricultural land.
Soil erosion reduction by an average of 2 tons/acre/year and sale of 150 tons of perennial grain in the northeast.
Additional Project Outcomes
Three new collaborative relationships have been built because of this project. One is with researchers at the USDA Big Flats Plant Materials Center, who have helped us learn about cleaning and dehulling intermediate wheatgrass, based on their long history of working with the crop. The second relationship is with millers at Farmer Ground Flour (Trumansburg, NY), who have helped us learn about seed cleaning techniques and milling. They helped us clean perennial cereal rye and mill the intermediate wheatgrass into flour for the test loaves. The third relationship is with bakers at the Wide Awake Bakery (Trumansburg, NY) who have assisted with formulating recipes for intermediate wheatgrass flour and advising on tasting sessions.
The following lists grants based from this project that were successfully applied for and received:
- Fulcher, M. and Law, E.P. Evaluating disease in novel perennial grain crops. Schmittau-Novak Integrative Plant Science Small Grant Program. April 2018 – March 2019. $3,030.
- Law, E.P. Increasing the profitability of Kernza perennial wheat with intercropped grain legumes. Northeast SARE Graduate Student Grant GNE17-156-31064. April 2018 – December 2019. $15,000.
- Law, E.P. Investigation of soil carbon storage and soil structure impacts of ‘Kernza’ intermediate wheatgrass. David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Small Grants Program. $7,978.
- Homami, N. and Law, E.P. Assessing willingness to pay for bread made of Kernza using a BDM Auction. Project in collaboration with and funded by The Land Institute, Salina, KS. April – August 2019. $9,000.
- Culman, S (Project Director), MR Ryan, and J Junger (Co-Project Directors). Organic dual-use perennial grain crops: pathways to profitability and soil health. 2019. National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). $2,000,000 (total), $313,200 (Ryan). Awarded 2019.
This project provided preliminary results that were incorporated into the above USDA OREI grant with Steve Culman (a consultant on this project). In that OREI project we will continue to develop management guidelines and work with farmers over the next four years. Additionally, we will target organic farmers who are interested in dual-purpose grain and forage production.
Challenges: Harvesting, cleaning, and dehulling seed have presented challenges in this project. We have learned that a lot of care needs to go into combine harvesting an intermediate wheatgrass crop, because the seeds are so small. Thus far the harvested intermediate wheatgrass grain has needed a second grain-cleaning step after combining. Future projects about intermediate wheatgrass should take into account the complicated nature of preparing the grain post-harvest.
Additionally, more information is needed about diseases and mycotoxins in perennial grains, given that recent years have been unseasonably wet around harvest time and this may impact grain quality.
We also learned about ideal grain storage methods from Phil Atkins (NY Grain Improvement Project).