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If you don’t know much now, you perhaps will soon. Kernza® perennial grain is a new strain of intermediate wheatgrass and is the first perennial grain to be commercialized in North America. Maybe you are among those who think that wheatgrass is only something “green” you add to a super healthy smoothie. Think again! Kernza® can be used like other wheat in cereals, muffins, crackers and flour. It can also be used as malt in brewing beer.
Kernza® was developed by The Land Institute in Kansas from a wheatgrass previously used for livestock forage. The first commercialized variety is named “Minnesota Clearwater;” here’s why: Kernza® holds promise as one solution to the pollution problem of drinking water posed by familiar row crops here in Minnesota and elsewhere. Because it is a perennial, Kernza® requires less fertilizer than either corn or soybeans. The roots are twice as deep as one would see on wheat, for example. (I have seen displays of Kernza® at the Minnesota State Fair and been amazed at how long the roots are—nearly as long as I am tall!) Because it is a perennial this means that the roots remain in the ground and prevent both soil erosion and help absorb fertilizer chemicals which contaminate well water.
The University of Minnesota is helping to lead a $10 million project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which in five years will ramp up the production of Kernza®, increasing yield and expanding markets for the grain. An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (September 19, 2020) quotes researchers as finding remarkable progress in preventing leaching of nitrogen into groundwater. Demand for Kernza’s® use for baking, brewing and café use is growing. For example, Perennial Pantry, based in Burnsville, now sells Kernza® to companies in 46 states.
Be watching for Kernza® in fields, on menus and on shelves. For more information visit www.landinstitute.org.