Kernza® in Wyoming: Evaluating Perennial Grains to Revitalize Wyoming Dryland Agriculture

Project Overview

OW21-363
Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2021: $74,804.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Wyoming
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jay Norton
University of Wyoming

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), other, wheat

Practices

  • Crop Production: cropping systems, drought tolerance
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

        Production of Kernza intermediate wheatgrass for grain promises to provide a sustainable alternative to wheat-fallow while producing food for a growing population. Winter wheat constitutes 135,000 acres in Wyoming, yet degraded soils, climate change, and weak markets threaten farming in this region. Kernza has not yet been planted in Wyoming, where the drier climate presents unique challenges, yet the High Plains Region stands to particularly benefit from the adoption of a perennial crop. We plan to plant Kernza at five farms across southeast Wyoming and at SAREC extension center under a variety of different management strategies, and to collect economic, soil health, and water use data. Our research will address the questions: “Can Kernza be profitably grown in eastern Wyoming?” and “What can soil health and water use data tell us about Kernza’s long term viability in this climate?”

        All project members will collaborate to bring information about perennial agriculture and our project to the local community, and to support farmers interested in trialing Kernza. Findings will be shared through on-farm field days, extension meetings, and alternative venues such as social media, youth groups, and the state fair. Eventually, we hope to equip more producers with the knowledge to grow and sell this novel grain. We expect that despite lower yields, reduced input costs and higher market prices will make Kernza a viable option for Wyoming wheat farmers that can sustain the agricultural productivity of this area in the long-term.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Kernza Viability: Determine agroecological viability of Kernza intermediate wheatgrass in eastern Wyoming under different farming strategies.

    1. Economic Analysis: Evaluate Kernza profitability under different farming strategies.
    2. Soil Health: Evaluate effects of Kernza on soil health and carbon sequestration compared to wheat-fallow and CRP land. 
    3. Drought Response: Predict and compare Kernza and wheat-fallow yields across the Central High Plains ecoregion using a model for water use.

    Outreach

    1. Maintain stakeholder engagement and cooperation.
    2. Host events to engage with the local community about perennial grain agriculture.
    3. Publish our findings on Kernza profitability, soil health, and drought response.
    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.