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Beyond Kernza®

A diverse, perennial vision

Beyond the monoculture: crop diversity

Harnessing ecological processes to supplant the need for inputs like fertilizers and pesticides can maintain food production while reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture. Using models of naturally occurring plant communities, Land Institute researchers aim to achieve new levels of ecological intensification with intercropping. Kernza®, for example, is already being intersown with legume species both on research stations and farms.

Beyond the biophysical: perennial civilization

Food systems are social, cultural, and economic as well as biophysical. The invention of new perennial polycultures could enable new ways for people to make a living within an ecospheric standard. To sustain a just transition to a diverse and perennial agriculture, people need to provide ongoing care to perennial crops, soils, and to each other in community. Researchers are working with a range of collaborators to develop perennial food systems projects that bridge science and civic society.

Perennial Crops at The Land Institute

Beyond Kernza® The Land Institute is developing a group of perennial grains, legumes, and oilseeds that will bring unprecedented sustainability to agriculture. We use two approaches to breed new crops: Domestication of wild perennials and perennialization of existing annual crops.

Perennial Legumes

Legumes improve soil fertility by adding nitrogen and also provide high-protein seeds for human consumption. We use legumes as perennial grains and as companion crops for other perennial grains. We are currently working with a range of perennial legume species including sainfoin, alfalfa, and lupine.

Perennial Oilseeds

A plant in the sunflower family native to the Great Plains, Silphium integrifolium is being domesticated as an oilseed crop that could replace annual oilseed crops such as sunflower and soy.

Perennial Rice

In 2007, Dr. Fengyi Hu reactivated perennial rice breeding in China’s Yunnan Province, releasing the first perennial rice to Chinese farmers in 2018. Land Institute staff advise, fund, and advocate for the program.

Perennial Sorghum

Like annual sorghum, perennial sorghum has good seed yield but size and flavor require improvement. Our hybrids are being trialed in sub-Saharan Africa to see how well they persist through dry seasons.

Perennial Wheat

We focus on hybrids made by crossing annual wheat species–especially durum wheat used for making pasta–with wheatgrass species, including the species being marketed as Kernza®.