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Kernza®CAP

Collaborating for perennial transformation

Can agriculture meet the challenges of our future food system while also protecting our water and soil, providing economic opportunities, and promoting social wellbeing? 
We believe it can.

This work is supported by AFRI Sustainable Agricultural Systems Coordinated Agricultural Program (SAS-CAP) grant no. 2020-68012-31934 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

  • The USDA SAS CAP program funded a five year grant, “Developing and deploying a perennial grain crop enterprise to improve environmental quality and rural prosperity”
  • Activities began 9/1/2020
  • Farmers, researchers, and public and private sector partners working together
  • Research, education, commercialization, and policy innovations to scale up Kernza®
  • Advance the environmental sustainability of food production
  • Demonstrate the viability of new perennial cropping systems as real economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities

The Kernza® CAP grant has a grand vision

The current situation

Nearly half of all global row crop land is used to grow three annual crops, wheat, maize, and rice, that provide more than 50% of human calories (FAO Statistics, 2019). Many annual crops like these rely on tillage resulting in soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced soil health (Pimentel et al., 2012). The deterioration of soil from current annual row crop agriculture reduces crop yields and increases farmer dependence on costly agrochemicals.

Focus on shifting agriculture from annual to perennial systems

Kernza® has a deep root system that provides multiple environmental benefits, including improving water and soil quality and reducing soil erosion. Additionally, research has shown that this new perennial grain can increase farm income due to decreased inputs and costs from reduced tillage, pesticide requirements and nutrient losses.revolutionizing agriculture. The Land Institute collects data and disseminates the most relevant information for stakeholders. The trademark license and its associated royalties make this possible.

One of humanity's biggest challenges

We are striving to create a sustainable agricultural system where farmers, businesses, communities and consumers benefit from healthier soils, cleaner water, stronger economies and more resilient social networks. We believe perennials are the key to the future of agriculture and that Kernza® can lead the way.

Kernza®CAP has Six Objectives

Kernza®Cap
Kernza®Cap

The six Kernza® Cap grant objectives

1. Advance germplasm and trait evaluation

Team

Project leads:
James Anderson, University of Minnesota
Prabin Bajgain, University of Minnesota
Lee DeHaan, The Land Institute

Project Team:
George Annor, University of Minnesota
Jared Crain, Kansas State University
Pam (Baraem) Ismail, University of Minnesota
Jesse Poland, Kansas State University

Goals

We will update and optimize our existing genomic selection (GS) models by evaluating training and breeding populations. Traits including grain yield, seed size, plant height, resistance to seed shatter, and free grain threshing will be assessed. Genotypes with superior trait performance will be used to develop Kernza varieties. Five IWG varieties replicated under different agronomic managements will be screened for overall nutrient composition including protein, fat, starch, dietary fiber, and antioxidants such as carotenoids and hydroxycinnamic acids. Grain harvested from variety trials will be subjected to storage stability tests. Relationships among root morphology, above-ground traits, and macro-nutrient (N, P, K) concentrations will be explored. Replicated field experiments will be established at six or more locations, with a minimum core set of treatments that will be deployed across the full geographic reach of our coordinated project. Additional treatments will be applied in different locations for a NPK fertility trial and on farm trials to give flexibility to all partners to explore local issues most relevant for implementing Kernza and to foster researcher-farmer relationships through research and educational activities

2. Enhance agronomic and on-farm knowledge

Team

Project leads:
Valentin Picasso, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Nicole Tautges, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

Project Team:
Andrea Basche, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Steve Culman, Ohio State University
Julie Dawson, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Carmen Fernholz, A – Frame Farms
Carrie Labowski, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Dorothy & John Priske, Fountain Prairie Farm
Dave Stoltenberg, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Goals

The variety trial will explore the genotype by environment by management (GxExM) interaction at each location: Kernza® genetic entries from the breeding programs will be crossed with two levels of fertilization. We will measure grain yields, stover and forage biomass, grain and forage quality, and root biomass from each treatment combination. Treatments in this GxExM trial will be used for measuring the environmental quality metrics described in Goal 3. Economic data related to treatments will be collected throughout the study. We will establish two fertilizer trials at each site focusing on three key nutrients for Kernza® production (N, P, K) and examining rates and timing management. The following variables will be measured in all plots at all sites: Grain yield, forage yield in summer after harvest and at fall, nutrient content of grain and forage, and grain yield. We will conduct on-farm trials to integrate grower experience and knowledge into research strategies and address regionally specific management practices. These trials will be driven by farmer interests with research-grower relationships being the key point of importance. These trials will also be host to extension and outreach activities described in the Extension and Education objective, including providing case-study examples for curricula modules, and data for water quality model validation.

3. Improve environmental quality

Team

Project leads:
Jessica Gutknecht, University of Minnesota
Alyssa Harman, Artisian Grain Collaborative

Project Team:
Nathaniel Brunsell, University of Kansas
Tim Crews, The Land Institute
Jared Trost, USGS Upper Midwest Water Science Center

Forever Green Initiative LogoUniversity Kansas Logo

Goals

We will determine which Kernza® management strategies, represented by the different agronomic treatments and trials best improve environmental quality metrics when compared to baseline conditions, or business as usual annual cropping systems. Experimental plots will be instrumented with surface runoff plots, a 1m access tube for soil moisture measurements, and lysimeters for monitoring. Soil physical and chemical measurements will complement this dataset. Empirical data will be used to validate and develop crop-soil hydrology models such as DNDC, to understand water quantity and quality characteristics of Kernza at a watershed scale. We will leverage GHG data being collected in eddy flux and in static chambers across our  consortium to develop and parameterize GHG emissions from biophysical models such as Noah-MP and AGROBGC that can be used to interpret the GHG implications of our various agronomic trials. We will validate the models using data from all field trials, with a focus on grain yield, aboveground biomass, root biomass, and estimated respiratory C losses. Following this, we will conduct model simulations to assess climate change impacts (altered precipitation and temperature) on Kernza® GHG emissions and environmental quality. Soil health will be measured in terms of physical, chemical, and biological indicators.

4. Engage Education, Extension & Policy

Team

Project leads:
Constance Carlson, Forever Green Initiative & RSDP (UMN)
Erin Meier, Green Lands Blue Waters (UMN)
Aubrey Streit Krug, The Land Institute

Project Team:
Cynthia Bartel, C Bartel Inc.
Michael Bell, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Whitney Clark, Friends of the Mississippi River
Theresa Keaveny, Sustainable Farming Association
Clair Keene, North Dakota State University
Diane Mayerfeld, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Robin Moore, Land Stewardship Project
Steve Morse, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

Green Lands Blue Waters Logo

Goals

We will develop, deploy, and distribute modular educational curricula targeted at students and teachers from middle school through graduate level education. Scientific literacy, qualitative and quantitative skills will be embedded in an agroecology curriculum ranging in topics from agronomic production to product development, rural sociology, ecosystem services, and supply chains and markets. At the middle school level, we will develop a toolkit for 4H leaders to use to educate and encourage projects in perennial agriculture. At the high school level, we will develop online, ready-to-use adobe presenter modules with input from Future Farmers of America teachers and program leaders. Undergraduate and continuing education curricula will include an online course focused on perennial crops and multi-class case studies available to teachers of existing courses, with a range of content including experiences of farmers involved in the project’s agronomic on-farm trials. The graduate-level capstone course will draw on experiential learning pedagogy to teach skills in collaborative problem-solving and innovation. Qualitative and quantitative data for evaluation will be gathered through avenues such as student surveys and projects, peer feedback, and teacher narrative reflections. Students’ successful demonstration of course learning objectives, will be analyzed by the research team. An Extension Kernza toolkit will be developed as an output of our curricula development to be beta-tested by this first cohort. We will build on past outreach events in MN and WI to formally develop an IWG Grower-Researcher Network focused on current IWG growers linked with established markets. We will host at least ten events throughout the project period. We will document experiences and explore ways to effectively expand the network. We will design and host two types of educational events. Event 1 will target organizations and coalitions that engage in agricultural/environmental public policy on state and federal levels. Event 2 is based on successful policy institutes hosted by other UMN centers. This invitation-only event will engage agency leaders, state/federal legislative leaders, committee members, and staff. We will document methods and outcomes for future replication in states primed for Kernza production, partnering with organizations such as the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators.

5. Develop supply chains and economic drivers

Team

Project leads:
Colin Cureton, Forever Green Initiative (UMN)
Tessa Peters, The Land Institute

Project Team:
Gwenael Engelskirchen, University of California – Davis
Tannie Eshenaur, MN Dept. of Health
Gail Feenstra, University of California – Davis
Nicholas Jordan, University of Minnesota
Tammy Kimbler, General Mills
Ben Penner, Penner Farms
Tracy Singleton, Birchwood Cafe
Chris Wiegert, Healthy Food Ingredients
Christopher Abbott, Sprowt Labs, Perennial Pantry

Goals

A Kernza® Business Association nested within a larger Kernza® Consortium will meet the critical need for efficient, collaborative decision-making within and across sectors. It will also house and advance collaborative consumer research and market analysis, develop shared marketing and communications strategy. It will also contribute to a replicable model for rapid sustainable commercialization of similar crops by expanding the value proposition and partners that industry partners with to advance sustainable solutions. Consumer research will identify Kernza® industry partners’ target consumer segments and value drivers. Project partners will research, develop, and solidify Kernza® supply chains and markets. Resources for this activity will support core staffing of IWG commercialization efforts at TLI and the UMN, which will provide critical staff capacity for ongoing IWG supply chain and market development. A rigorous literature review of payment for ecosystem services programs to improve water quality, emerging approaches to carbon markets, etc. will be conducted. This review will be provided to the Extension, Education, and Policy team to develop policy and program recommendations for tangibly valuing these benefits. These activities will advance a policy and programmatic environment conducive to the success of Kernza® and the rapid sustainable commercialization of similar crops.

6. Activate transformational change through intentional integration

Team

Project Team:
Jacob Jungers, University of Minnesota
Aaron Reser, Green Lands Blue Waters (UMN)
Tessa Peters, The Land Institute
Aubrey Streit Krug, The Land Institute

Forever Green Initiative LogoGreen Lands Blue Waters Logo

Goals

Changes in knowledge – This project will result in changes in knowledge across a wide range of social groups, economic groups, and age groups. Rural communities will have more knowledge about how crops grown in their communities can affect drinking water and the climate, and knowledge about how Kernza® and other future perennial crops can mitigate environmental degradation. Businesses will gain knowledge on how consumers view and value crops and ingredients with unique environmental benefits. High-school, undergraduate, and graduate students will gain knowledge on how perennial crops like Kernza® can impact society in terms of economics and the environment. The public will gain knowledge on what perennial grain crops are, how they can benefit society, and how we can improve their economic viability.

Changes in action – This project will result in an increased number of farmers growing Kernza®. Changes in action will also include an increase in Kernza acreage per farm for existing growers, and growers who participate in the project. Business will seek to integrate Kernza® into their products. Supply chain manufacturers will develop resources to process Kernza® to increase its availability and economic viability. Teachers will incorporate learning modules and curriculum developed by this project into their education programs. Extension agents and specialists will incorporate outreach materials into their programming to disseminate information about Kernza® and perennial crops.

Changes in condition – Increased adoption of Kernza® and expansion of perennial grain crop acreage will improve the condition of the environment and society. The actions taken above will result in less nitrate leaching to groundwater, thus protection rural drinking water supplies. The actions taken above will result in less greenhouse gas emissions per acre, thus limiting agriculture’s contribution to climate change. The actions taken above will improve soil health, provide more nutritious foods for society, and influence policies that trigger a long-term support and adoption of perennial grain crops.

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photos on this page by Carmen Fernholz