Developing perennial grain cropping systems and market opportunities in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $184,998.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2020
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Matthew Ryan
Cornell University

Information Products


  • Agronomic: wheat


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and justification Grain crop production in the northeast typically involves soil tillage prior to crop planting. Farmers use tillage to facilitate soil warming, suppress pests, incorporate amendments, and provide a good seedbed. However, soil tillage can also cause major problems such as compaction, runoff, erosion, and sedimentation and nutrient pollution of surface water. In the Northeast, soil loss has been estimated to be 2.7 tons/acre on average. Without synthetic herbicides, organic farmers rely more heavily on tillage and cultivation for weed control than do conventional farmers, making organic farmers more susceptible to soil erosion. This problem—and our project—is important because there are over 120,000 acres of annual wheat and related small grain crops planted each year in New York alone. In addition to challenges with soil erosion, there is increasing demand for locally grown grains and production has not been keeping up with consumer interest. Farmers in the northeast need information on how to sustainably grow perennial grain crops on land that is not suitable for annual tillage. Solution and approach Our project will increase the diversity of agriculture in the northeast and help to meet the demand for local grain while decreasing erosion and regenerating soil health. Perennial grains, such as intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) and perennial rye (Secale montanum), have recently become agronomically feasible and could be part of a sustainable cropping system. This project aims to develop and support perennial grain production for farmers in the northeast, focusing on New York. We will research the potential for intercropping perennial grains with legumes for sustainable nitrogen input, and work with key-individual farmers to explore harvesting options. We will use farmer-to-farmer learning and advance perennial grain crop production by working closely with a core group of high-profile farmers who are eager to be the first producers of perennial grain crops in the northeast. We will work with these farmers while simultaneously coordinating with bakers and brewers to identify opportunities for perennial grain products in local markets. Also on our team are experienced researchers from the Land Institute and the Ohio State University who will serve as advisors. Given our exceptional team of influential farmers and enthusiastic stakeholders, we are well poised to lead the country in the development of perennial grain cropping systems that are productive and profitable.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    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.

    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.