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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. 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

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

The goal of this objective group is to improve Kernza® genetics for increased grain yield, ecosystem services, and functionality as a new food ingredient. Our work will be closely integrated with the Environmental Quality objective group to identify future Kernza® varieties optimized for specific environmental outcomes.  We will integrate with the Agronomic objective group to determine how future Kernza® varieties respond to fertilization across a broad range of growing conditions. Our team will update and optimize existing Kernza® genomic selection (GS) models by evaluating training and breeding populations and incorporating food science traits into the models to identify future varieties with grain that stores and performs well in various food products.

Activities

  1. Assessment of agronomic traits including grain yield, seed size, plant height, resistance to shattering and free grain threshing, with identified superior trait performances used to develop future Kernza® varieties.
  2. Screen five variety candidates managed under different agronomic conditions for overall nutrient composition, including protein, fat, starch, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
  3. Conduct storage stability tests on grain harvested from variety trials to understand optimal storage conditions and timing.
  4. Measure relationships between root traits and grain traits to explore potential genetic synergies or tradeoffs between ecosystem services and yield.
  5. In collaboration with the Agronomic objective group, replicate field and on-farm experiments at six or more locations, with a minimum core set of treatments, including NPK fertility trials, that will be deployed across the full geographic reach of the Kernza®CAP project.

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 Laboski, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Dorothy & John Priske, Fountain Prairie Farm
Dave Stoltenberg, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Goals

The goal of this objective group is to advance our knowledge and understanding of Kernza® agronomics and on-farm knowledge. We will accomplish these goals by conducting both research field trials and on-farm field trials in close collaboration with the Breeding objective group and growers located throughout the U.S. Results from these trials will inform future management recommendations and will be shared in field days, educational materials, and programming developed by the Extension, Education and Policy Objective group.

Activities

  1. Launch two field trials to evaluate management practices that maximize productivity and persistence, guide future fertility recommendations, and update management practice recommendations for improved grain yields and grain quality.
    • Field Trial #1 is a variety trial that will explore how genotypes managed in identified environments interact. (Commonly called a GxExM experiment, genotype by environment by management). Kernza® genetic lines from the breeding programs will be evaluated under two levels of fertilization to determine how varieties respond to differences in nutrient application.
    • Field Trial #2 is a fertility trial that will examine N, P and K fertilizer rates and application timing. Additionally, grain and forage yield in summer after harvest and at fall, and nutrient content of grain and forage will be measured to determine which fertilization strategy maximizes grain and forage yields.
  2. Conduct on-farm trials in collaboration with Kernza® growers to integrate grower experience and knowledge into research strategies and address regionally specific management practices to better address the different growing regions of the U.S.
    • Trial sites will also host Extension and outreach activities described in the Extension, Education and Policy objective group and will provide 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 Hartman, Artisan 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

The goal of this objective group is to determine which Kernza® management strategies best improve environmental quality in comparison to “business as usual” annual cropping systems. Our work will be closely integrated with the Agronomy team field and farm trials and the growers who are partnered on the grant. Research outcomes from our work will be incorporated into the Kernza® grower management guide, curriculum developed by the Extension, Education and Policy team, and shared with industry stakeholders, including the Kernza® Business Association.

Activities

  1. In coordination with Agronomy and Breeding objective groups, instrument experimental plots to measure surface runoff, soil moisture, and nitrate levels in soil water beneath the rooting zone.
  2. Calibrate and validate crop-soil hydrology models to understand water quantity and quality characteristics of Kernza® at a watershed scale.
  3. Estimate the GHG footprint of Kernza®  using  biophysical models based on carbon flux data collected with eddy flux towers and static chambers.
  4. Validate crop and water quality models using data from all field trials, with a focus on grain yield, aboveground biomass, root biomass, and  carbon dynamics.
  5. Conduct model simulations to assess climate change impacts (altered precipitation and temperature) on Kernza® GHG emissions and environmental quality.

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
Peter LaFontaine, Friends of the Mississippi River
Trevor Russell, Friends of the Mississippi River
Jared Luhman, Sustainable Farming Association
Megan Gladbach, The Land Institute
Steve Culman, Ohio State University

Green Lands Blue Waters Logo Ohio State University Logo

Goals

The goal of this objective group is to compile and share previous knowledge and experiences on Kernza® production to support future partners, inform research priorities, and promote policy for perennial grain production. Our work will include the integration of perennial agriculture and Kernza® production into multiple educational, outreach, and support settings. We are charged with curating the most up-to-date science and implementation approaches into accessible informational and engagement tools for students, growers, educators, technical assistance providers, and policymakers. Our work will be informed by the advances of the other objective groups through consistent communication, feedback, and collaboration.

Activities

  1. Develop, deploy, and distribute curriculum for a range of learners – middle school through graduate level – using in-person and online platforms.
  2. Launch a multi-institution, transdisciplinary Extension leadership cohort to develop and test an Extension outreach tool kit.
  3. Cultivate a Grower-Researcher Network through coordinated educational sessions and field days.
  4. Host key decision-maker educational sessions to engage legislators and advocates in the latest perennial crop developments and to explore innovative policy supports.
  5. Identify and inventory existing federal and state conservation programs that offer pathways to adoption to maximize program use and inform future policy opportunities

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

The goal of this objective group is to advance the commercialization of Kernza® through a collaborative informative feedback loop between industry, research, and production. We will accomplish this through several strategic activities, including launching an industry advisory group that will govern and steward Kernza® germplasm, production, quality standards, and supply as it continues to emerge in the marketplace. Our work will be informed by the research results from the Breeding, Environmental Quality and Agronomic teams and will provide a platform for researchers, growers, and industry stakeholders to respond to and accelerate the commercial adoption of Kernza®.

Activities

  1. Facilitate the development of a Kernza® Business Association as a platform to:
    • Establish and maintain shared values among Kernza® market stakeholders including growers, supply chain partners, end-users, and consumers
    • Govern and steward Kernza® germplasm, production, standards, and supply
    • Serve as a unified voice for Kernza® in the marketplace
    • Advance consumer research and market analysis
    • Develop a shared marketing and communications strategy
    • Identify Kernza® industry partners’ target consumer segments and value drivers
    • Identify supply chain bottlenecks and develop expansion plans
  2. Conduct a literature review of payments and marketplaces for ecosystem services programs to improve water quality, carbon sequestration, etc. that will be shared with the Extension, Education, and Policy team to inform education materials development.
  3. Collaborate on policy and program recommendations for valuing ecosystems services benefits
  4. Build a replicable model for rapid sustainable commercialization of other continuous living cover 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

The goal of the integration objective group is to provide an efficient platform for communication and knowledge sharing within and outside of the formal project network. We will develop and support a structure of feedback loops so that the 5 objective groups above can adaptively respond to new knowledge and information acquired from one another. As a transdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder project, we believe intentional integration and collaboration can result in the greatest possible impact on the entire Kernza® enterprise, from research to market development and consumer engagement.

Activities

  1. Translating environmental quality and agronomic trial results into educational products for students and consumers
  2. Ensuring increased farmer adoption of Kernza® grain by improving agronomic techniques and supply chain efficiency in tandem
  3. Improving market valuation of socioeconomic and ecosystems services provided by Kernza® grain by producing educational materials and developing multi-stakeholder business support structures
  4. Reducing negative ecosystems impacts by integrating knowledge from the environmental quality team into policy recommendations and incentives for Kernza® growers
  5. Embedding race and equity as explicit focus areas throughout each of the objectives

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photos on this page by Carmen Fernholz