Grazing management of “Kernza” Intermediate wheatgrass as a dual purpose crop

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Valentin Picasso
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Information Products


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Crop Production: cover crops, intercropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: hedges - grass, grass waterways, riparian buffers, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: competition, prevention, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: permaculture, transitioning to organic, agroecosystems, organic agriculture, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) is a perennial cool-season forage grass that has been bred for large seed size and yield becoming the first perennial grain crop in the US. Research and industry partnerships have achieved rapid development of this crop; commercial interest in Intermediate wheatgrass grain (Kernza ®) has swelled and demand is greater than farmers’ supply. Kernza production has great potential to improve agricultural sustainability compared to annuals because its extensive root systems reduce soil erosion and nutrient leaching, while simultaneously increasing farmer incomes due to decreased annual inputs and costs.Ongoing agronomic trials are determining best management practices for maximum grain yield. However, an added-value product remains largely untapped and unknown: the capacity to manage Intermediate wheatgrass as an integrated crop/livestock system to produce forage for livestock and grain for humans. Forage provides another revenue stream, reducing economic risks for farmers. Because Intermediate wheatgrass grain is harvested in mid-summer, there is potential to harvest or graze its forage in the Spring and Fall, but little is known about the impact of grazing timing on grain and forage production. Therefore, our objectives are to measure: 1) Intermediate wheatgrass grain yields after being grazed in Spring, Fall, or both seasons, and 2) forage yield, forage quality, and animal performance from grazed Intermediate wheatgrass.  Improved Kernza ® seeds will be planted for experiments at four on-farm sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and at two university research farms (UMN-Morris and UW-Lancaster). We will conduct an economic analysis that considers inputs and returns to optimize grain and forage yields that enhance farmer profitability and environmental sustainability.This project responds directly to farmer-driven questions about production as a dual-purpose crop for grain and livestock. This project was designed with input by the participating farmers, and results will serve a much larger farmer constituency. Results will be communicated at field days and producer meetings, published as a “Kernza growers’ handbook”, peer-reviewed papers, conference presentations, and through the Green Lands Blue Waters website, e-newsletters and outreach networks. Farmers will learn how to profitably manage Intermediate wheatgrass for forage and grain production. Outcomes will facilitate the expansion of this crop so more seed and grain will be available to farmers and industry. In the long term, this will increase economic benefits to farmers and rural communities, provide new whole grain food products, and improve soil and water quality through perennial cover in the North Central US.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Learning: Farmers and researchers will learn about: - Intermediate wheatgrass forage and grain yield response to grazing in Fall and/or Spring, - livestock performance on Intermediate wheatgrass forage, - potential economic returns from Intermediate wheatgrass, - how to manage Intermediate wheatgrass for both forage and grain

    Action: - More farmers will grow and graze Intermediate wheatgrass. - More seed and grain will be available to farmers and industry. - Increased collaboration among Intermediate wheatgrass researchers in the Upper Midwest.

    System: - Increased planting of Intermediate wheatgrass will improve the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture in the North Central US.


    The outputs of this project include the generation and dissemination of results and information, as well as other products detailed below.

    Experimental results and information: Results from this project will be available as soon as data are collected and processed. Near-term results will include: 1) Intermediate wheatgrass forage and grain yield response to one and two years of Spring grazing, Fall grazing, and both. 2) Comparison of livestock performance of animals grazing improved pasture vs. Intermediate wheatgrass regrowth. 3) Estimated economic returns from forage and grain products in each treatment combination.

    Products: 1) A best management guidelines document for integrated crop/livestock management of Intermediate wheatgrass (“Kernza growers’ handbook”).  This will be on-line at the Green Lands Blue Waters, Forever green website, UMN and UW Extension websites. 2) Four field days demonstrating the dual-use potential of Intermediate wheatgrass in Minnesota and Wisconsin (Experimental stations and participating farms). 3) Peer-reviewed publications published in open-source journals. 4) Posters available online summarizing research for regional and national conferences 5) An interdisciplinary and participatory network of farmers, researchers, Extension agents, educators, industry, and other collaborators interested and actively engaged in promoting research, growing, and marketing of Kernza 6) Kernza seed for future research and industry.

    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.