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Field Notes

How Scientists Are Creating the Crops of the Future

In Kansas, a small team of scientists is working on what they hope will be the grain of the future. To the untrained eye, the long-stemmed, seed-topped wheatgrass looks quite similar to the normal wheat that sways in farm fields across the central U.S. But researchers at a nonprofit called The Land Institute, based in Salina, Kansas, have spent decades fine-tuning their flagship product with year after year of selective breeding. 

Today, they say that Kernza brings higher yields and can contain more seeds per stem than average wheat. And the crop is perennial, meaning it returns each year without the need for tilling and replanting. That helps keep carbon in the ground and cuts down on the need for chemical herbicides. And because their roots remain in the soil, perennial crops are a powerful defense against soil erosion.