- Agronomic: general grain crops
- Production Systems: general crop production
Scientists and farmers working with pasture and agroforestry systems have long recognized the benefits of perennial crops that live for many years and do not require annual reseeding. Although some livestock production can be shifted to pasture-based perennial systems, humans depend upon grain. Decades of research have demonstrated that extensive planting of annual grain crops is inherently unsustainable. Although in the past plant breeders have had difficulty finding a role in sustainable agriculture, perennial grain breeding is a promising opportunity to transform agriculture. Intermediate wheatgrass (IWG) has potential to be the first widely grown perennial grain crop providing food for humans. More than 10 years of breeding IWG for grain production has already been completed, and methods for growing IWG are available. Long term outcomes of IWG grown in diverse cropping systems would include soil conservation, reduced nutrient leakage from fields, reduced pesticide application, reduced farmer input costs, and improved quality of life for society as a whole through improved natural resource conservation and wildlife protection.
The next critical step toward widespread use of IWG is the expansion of a breeding program functioning within a community of practice consisting of farmers, researchers, millers, and bakers. The community will learn about IWG through three on-farm trials, breeding efforts, milling and baking experiments, and grain chemistry analysis. Through these experiments, knowledge of the advantages and challenges of IWG production will grow, and the community will be able to more effectively inform the breeding work. Knowledge and attitudes of the community will be monitored through annual surveys, and broader interest will be tracked in a database of interested parties. Outreach will be achieved through publication in journals and the popular press, through academic presentations, and through plot tours.
Project objectives from proposal:
We expect the proposed project to contribute to the following outcomes:
•Increased optimism within the community of practice for potential of IWG to be a successful perennial grain crop. The community of practice is currently very interested in the potential of IWG to improve sustainability. Hands-on experience and documented progress in breeding will help us to move from interest to optimism.
•Knowledge and experience gained by farmers and processors enables them to provide direction to continued efforts to develop IWG. Breeders are currently operating according their best guesses. Once farmers and processors have obtained hands-on experience, they will be equipped to provide valuable insight concerning agronomic and breeding objectives.
•The number of farmers, processors and scientists interested in joining the IWG community of practice will have tripled in three years. Field days, publications, and tours will develop awareness of IWG, and a record of interested individuals will be maintained in preparation for expanded experimentation and planting.
•Commercial plantings of IWG will be established and breeding programs will be initiated in other regions. This is an intermediate term outcome. Commercial plantings depend upon the development of improved varieties, agronomic practices, processing techniques, and marketable products. Although the current project is based in Kansas, the research conducted will provide a head start to programs in other states throughout the North Central Region.