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.
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.
Strips were harvested for grain or mowed using each farmer’s equipment in 2017 and 2018 (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.
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|
|Farm 1||Amazone Airstar Prafi||9/21/16||15||0.40||NA||0||TLI Cycle 4||Mowed for forage in July||Harvested for grain|
|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|
|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|
Table 2. Planting, equipment, and harvest details for perennial cereal rye for three on-farm strip trials.
|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.
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).
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 1960 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.
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 (Fig 1). However, perennial cereal rye produced substantially lower biomass in the second year compared with the first year (Fig 1).
Although no difference was observed in intermediate wheatgrass biomass, the interseeded red clover suppressed perennial cereal rye 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 (Fig 1).
Perennial grains produced lower grain yield at harvest in the second year of the experiment compared with the first year (Fig 2). In the second year of the experiment, grain yields of wheat and barley were greater than those of intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye. Barley yields were higher in the second year compared with barley yields in the first year (Fig 2).
In 2018, grain yields of wheat and barley were higher in plots interseeded with red clover compared with grain yields of wheat and barley plots without red clover (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.
In 2017, weed biomass was lower in intermediate wheatgrass and barley plots interseeded with red clover compared with intermediate wheatgrass and barley plots without red clover (Fig 3). In 2018, intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye plots interseeded with red clover had lower weed biomass compared with intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye plots without clover (Fig 3). Based on these results it appears that interseeding with red clover can have a suppressive effect on weeds in perennial grain crops.
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 3). 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 3).
Table 3. 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 offer field days and tasting events with farmer-to-farmer learning as the primary knowledge pathway. The three farmers involved in field research trials will also help recruit other farmers through their networks. We will use email networks, meetings, field days, and newsletters to distribute information. Topics covered will include planting, pest management, harvesting, and dehulling grain. We will 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 will be will be invited to try growing perennial grains on their farms and provided with perennial grain seed and management recommendations. We will be available to answer all questions about perennial grain management through telephone calls and email. Every effort will be made to reduce risk to farmers and make their involvement in the project hassle-free and rewarding.
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.
- As of December 18, 2017 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, 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.
- 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 participants attended.
- 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.
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 came forward and 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.
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 is 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.
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 grain than originally expected will be necessary for a perennial grain tasting event. We need to develop functional intermediate wheatgrass post-harvest cleaning and dehulling methods before flour could be milled for the event. 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 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 5), 50% intermediate wheatgrass flour (with 50% wheat flour, Fig 6), and 100% intermediate wheatgrass flour (Fig 7). Other intermediate wheatgrass flour products experimented with by bakers within the Ryan lab have included chocolate chip cookies, crackers, and pretzels. 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.
- In spring 2018, 300 lbs of perennial cereal rye was sent to Van Brunk Stillhouse in Brooklyn for a test batch of whisky. The product will cure in barrels for 7-9 months.
- 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.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Interest in planting perennial grains, Harvest management of perennial grains, Disease in perennial grains, Cleaning and dehulling techniques for perennial grains.
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
Two 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.
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).