Improving disease resistance in the perennial grain Kernza to protect the value of the grain and the environment

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $167,433.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Kansas State University
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Jessica Rupp
Kansas State University

Information Products


  • Agronomic: Kerna, intermediate wheatgrass


  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, cropping systems, food product quality/safety, nurseries, plant breeding and genetics, tissue analysis, varieties and cultivars, Plant Pathology
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Pest Management: cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems

    Proposal abstract:

    As a perennial grain crop, intermediate wheatgrass (IWG,  Thinopyrum intermedium, marketed under the trade name Kernza in reference to grain, and referred to as IWG subsequently) provides economic opportunity to growers who are interested in improving the environmental benefit of their farmland. Despite this opportunity, there is a possibility that perennial crops may harbor pathogen populations that could increase over time. Although IWG is not severely affected by many pathogens of annual crops, there are a few diseases that pose a threat to the long term viability of the crop and to human health. If the same pathogens also cause disease in widely grown annual crops, IWG might not be planted due to concern of spread. The fungus Fusarium graminearum, which causes the disease Fusarium head blight (FHB) is significant due to its production of the toxin deoxynivalenol, which is heavily regulated in food and animal feed.  Viruses such as Wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV) and Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYD) consistently appear across the Great Plains.  WSMV, BYD, and FHB can cause tremendous economic loss to producers during epidemic years. We will work with farmers growing IWG to identify the pathogens present in their fields, measure the toxin content of the grain, use what we learn in their fields to inoculate and select plants resistant to infection in breeding nurseries on research stations, and test grain harvest, cleaning, and milling methods to reduce the toxin content of the grain. The outcomes of this project will be the expansion of a current grower network who will be able to identify and manage disease threats, development of disease resistant IWG populations, knowledge for growers about what diseases were found in their fields, and management recommendations for those diseases.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to expand the IWG grower network to identify and address disease challenges in this new crop. In grower fields, we will identify Fusarium isolates, measure toxin levels in the grain, determine presence of viruses, and relate this information to growers with management recommendations. We would then use what we learn to establish a relevant disease screening program to develop improved seed for growers. The outcomes of this project include an expanded grower network, disease resistant IWG populations, information for growers about disease risk, and management recommendations for those diseases.

    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.