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Lawn-style Perennial Grainfields??? Can this work?

 
                    
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Lawn-style Perennial Grainfields

Agro-boffins in America say that mankind could be on the verge of the "biggest agricultural breakthrough in 10,000 years", as researchers close in on "perennial grains".

"At the moment, most grain grown around the world has to be replanted after every crop. Farming so-called "annual" grain of this sort consumes a lot of resources and is hard on the land, which is especially worrying as half the world's population lives off farmland which could easily be rendered unproductive by intensive annual grain harvests."

.........At the moment, perennial grains capable of matching annuals don't exist. However, Reganold and Glover argue that they can be bred with sufficient effort: it's purely a matter of resources put into research. It's perhaps worth noting that there's not as much obvious revenue in perennials for major agro firms as there is in some kinds of annuals - there would be no continual requirement for new seed.
http://search.theregister.co.uk/?q=%27Biggest+thing+in+farming+for+10%2C000+years+on+horizon%27
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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There has been success in growing grains that are perennial for 5 seasons or more.  Perhaps not ready to compete with conventional ag on prime farmland yet, but certainly something that could be integrated into a diverse homestead right now.
 
                    
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Thanks for the in put, do you know how the grain is to eat?
Is it like wheat or what?
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Dianne Keast wrote:
Thanks for the in put, do you know how the grain is to eat?
Is it like wheat or what?


Yes, I think the most breeding has done with wheat. But there are lots of things being tried out.

the Land Institute http://www.landinstitute.org/ has been working on this for some time.  I think I remember seeing them in the movie "dirt" showing off perennial grains with 10 foot long roots...  the implications are clear on optimal use of water & minerals.  Imagine if grains themselves might be dynamic accumulators? 

Perennial grains research

When The Land Institute and our allies succeed, a farm will no longer have to be an ecological sacrifice zone; rather, it can provide food while at the same time it protects soils, water and biodiversity. We need the missing link: perennial grain crops. And as those new crops are being developed, plant breeders, agro-ecologists and farmers will be working out strategies for growing them in mixtures, to recapture the ecological soundness of pre-agricultural landscapes.

The genetic raw material is out there, ready to be put to use. Plants now in field plots and on greenhouse benches at the Land Institute form the foundation of breeding programs that will, given decades of work, turn out perennial grain crops. Most of the current genetic and breeding effort is going into the following species and species hybrids:

Wheat can be hybridized with several different perennial species to produce viable, fertile offspring. We have produced thousands of such plants. Many rounds of crossing, testing and selection will produce perennial wheat varieties for use on the farm.

Intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) is one of those perennial relatives of wheat. It is also a potential grain crop on its own. We established genetically diverse populations and have begun selection for crop-like traits.

Grain sorghum is a drought-hardy feed grain in North America and a staple human food in Asia and Africa, where it provides reliable harvests in places where hunger is always a threat. It can be hybridized with perennial species Sorghum halepense. We have produced large plant populations from hundreds of such hybrids.

Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoiensis) is a native prairie legume that fixes atmospheric nitrogen and produces abundant protein-rich seed. It is one of our strongest candidates for domestication as a crop. We have assembled a large collection of seed from a wide geographical area and have initiated a breeding program.

Sunflower is another annual crop we have hybridized with perennial species in its genus, including Helianthus maximiliani, H. rigidus and H. tuberosus (commonly known as Jerusalem artichoke). Breeding work is underway.

There is potential for many more perennial grain species, including maize, Eastern gamagrass, rice, chickpea, millets, flax and a range of native plants. We are studying these and other species but do not currently have staff to initiate breeding programs.



There are also strains of perennial corn in development.  This from 1982:
http://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/16/science/cross-between-corn-and-a-wild-relative-yields-a-perennial-crop.html
CROSS BETWEEN CORN AND A WILD RELATIVE YIELDS A PERENNIAL CROP

By WALTER SULLIVAN
Published: February 16, 1982
Illustrations: Photos of stalks of corn

FOR thousands of years farmers have had to plant a new corn crop every spring. Recently, however, an American-Argentine collaboration bred a perennial variety by crossing corn with a distant wild relative, teosinte, which is native to Central America.

The development has generated great excitement among plant breeders. But perennial varieties of any crop are always much less productive than their annual counterparts. Moreover, the products of the corn-teosinte cross, now in their third season of growth, scarcely resemble what farmers and consumers today know as corn. Still, the achievement holds hope for major increases of food production, especially in developing countries where corn is grown for fodder rather than grain.

The achievement of perennial corn is a personal triumph for Dr. Paul C. Mangelsdorf, for more than 20 years a professor of botany at Harvard University, who is now approaching his 83d birthday at the University of North Carolina. It was he who supplied the crossbred seeds from which Julian Camara-Hernandez, professor of agricultural botany at the University of Buenos Aires, has grown the perennial corn and other hybrids.

Chromosome Counts Aided Interbreeding

The possibility of breeding perennial corn was suggested in 1979 by Dr. Hugh H. Iltis, a botanist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, when he described in the journal Science the discovery of a perennial teosinte whose chromosome count was similar to that of corn.

When plant or animal cells divide, the genetic material in their nuclei organizes itself into a characteristic series of bundles known as chromosomes. Corn has 20 chromosomes, as does the annual form of teosinte. Hence in Mexico, where teosinte sometimes grows near corn patches, the plants may interbreed, exchanging genetic properties.

As long ago as 1910, Dr. Albert Hitchcock of the Smithsonian Institution found a perennial teosinte near a railroad station in Jalisco State, but it could not be crossbred with corn because it had twice as many chromosomes. Furthermore, for a half century after 1921 no more of the plants were seen.

Then, in 1978, Rafael Guzman, a botany student at the University of Guadalajara in Jalisco, discovered a surviving patch. On an expedition higher into the mountains Mr. Guzman, Dr. Iltis and others then found a large plantation of perennials at a height of 7,500 feet and the plants, like corn, proved to have 20 chromosomes.

This new species, they reported in Science, ''should provide geneticists and maize breeders with a potentially valuable source of germ plasm, and may lead to the development of perennial maize.''


Again, I think these grains can be grown successfully now, they just can't compete with commercial ag.
 
                    
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Great info. thanks yukkuri_kame
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Ran across this by chance today... full article at the link

http://campfire.theoildrum.com/node/6728#more
The 50-year farm bill
Posted by Gail the Actuary on July 18, 2010 - 10:25am in The Oil Drum: Campfire
Topic: Policy/Politics
Tags: 50-year farm bills, agricultural policy, farm bills, perennial grains [list all tags]
This is an article by Wes Jackson that was previously published by Solutions Journal. We have included a few Campfire questions at the end.

The Trouble with Agriculture

Across the farmlands of the U.S. and the world, climate change overshadows an ecological and cultural crisis of unequaled scale: soil erosion, loss of wild biodiversity, poisoned land and water, salinization, expanding dead zones, and the demise of rural communities. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) concludes that agriculture is the “largest threat to biodiversity and ecosystem function of any single human activity.”1 Up to 40 percent of global croplands are experiencing soil erosion, reduced fertility, or overgrazing.2 It is likely that agricultural acreage worldwide will expand over the next two to three decades, especially as the human population increases to eight to 10 billion people. The same thing that drives climate change helps drive the agricultural crisis—cheap fossil fuel.

In the U.S., commodity subsidies that focus on bushels per acre, an industrial model that much of the world wants to imitate, continue to drive this increasingly unsustainable agricultural economy. Over the past century, the number of farms in the U.S. has declined as the average farm size has increased. At the same time, the number of commodities per farm—such as corn, wheat, barley, soybeans, alfalfa, tobacco, potatoes, pigs, and chickens—has decreased from an average of five to just one product.3 American agriculture is guided by five-year farm bills and heavily entrenched subsidies. Export policy is the driver designed to offset our nation’s balance of payments deficit, which includes the purchase of foreign oil.

We need a long-term, conserving vision to counteract these trends. Five-year farm bills should be mileposts in a 50-year journey to end degradation of our agricultural capital. Where do we begin? The United States is a big country, and the ecological mosaic is daunting. There are the soils of the upper Midwest, deep and rich in nutrients from the Pleistocene’s scouring ice and watered by the moisture favorably blown from the Gulf of Mexico. What have we done with this land? Soil erosion, nitrogen fertilizer, and pesticides have seriously degraded this gift of good land, the best contiguous stretch in the world. In California, rich valleys and reliable snow pack in a Mediterranean environment lessen the problem of soil erosion. But there is spraying, salinization, accumulation of toxins in the delta, and loss of farmland to sprawl.

One could continue the inventory, but the point is that each region has its own problems and opportunities. We must acknowledge that all successful corrections will be local. And that plays to an often-overlooked point: The decline of fossil fuels will require a higher eyes-to-acre ratio, which means more farmers on the land. Cultural and ecological adaptation become one subject.

Looking broadly, the USDA and the secretary of agriculture should see that our first order of business should be to prevent our soils from eroding and declining in quality—they are the source of most of the nutrients that feed us. If our soils are protected, the water falling on them can be protected and properly used on its trip to the atmosphere, ocean, or aquifer. The United States has about 400 million acres of cropland, with around 36 million acres placed in the Conservation Reserve Program.4,5 The secretary of agriculture must look at the aggregate use of these croplands. At any one time, 80 percent of that land grows annual crops. The other 20 percent is in perennials, such as pastures or hay, although, to be clear, sometimes in a rotation with annuals such as corn or sorghum.

Such an overview quickly draws one’s attention to the core of what might be called “the problem of agriculture”: essentially all of the high-yield crops that feed humanity—including rice, wheat, corn, soybeans, and peanuts—are annuals. With cropping of annuals, alive just part of the year and weakly rooted even then, comes more loss of precious soil, nutrients, and water.



The Land Institute
Summary of the possible. Protecting our soils with perennials.

A. 2010: Hay or grazing operations will continue as they exist. Preparations for subsidy changes begin.

B. 2015: Subsidies become incentive to substitute perennial grass in rotations for feed grain in meat, egg, and milk production.

C. 2020: The first perennial wheat, Kernza™, will be farmer-ready for limited acreage.

D. 2030: Educate farmers and consumers about new perennial grain crops.

E. 2045: New perennial grain varieties will be ready for expanded geographical range. Also potential for grazing and hay.

F. 2055: High-value annual crops are mainly grown on the least erodible fields as short rotations between perennial crops.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Dianne Keast wrote:
Thanks for the in put, do you know how the grain is to eat?
Is it like wheat or what?


Here's Gene Logsdon's experience:

The flour makes a light dough and the pancakes taste just a tad sweeter than ordinary wheat flour.  It is Jackson’s hope that within ten years, he and his staff can develop Kernza ™ for use in commercially manufactured foods. It is exceptionally high in some nutrients known to be important to human health and deficient in many modern diets: Omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, lutein, and betaine. It is particularly high in folate, important for preventing stroke, cancer, heart disease and infertility. Folate is also believed to be important for maintaining good mental health in old age.  My mind generally glazes over when reading about nutrient values of various foods so that folate might come in handy. To me the important thing is that for once something that is good for me tastes good too. Kernza ™ does not have enough gluten in it to use alone for leavened breads, but as more and more crosses are made with it and regular wheat, all things are possible.


Separately, the Holzer family seems to eat a fair amount of perennial rye, which is referred to in English translations as "Russian corn" (corn being British for grain in general, and the variety in question possibly a result of Soviet breeding efforts).
 
                    
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Interesting,Thanks
 
Brenda Groth
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there are perennial ryes grown around here..mostly for deer fodder..they are left standing for winter food for the deer population
 
                    
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Humm, is it planted to draw the deer away from other crops as well?
 
Brice Moss
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where i grew up in mich it was planted to draw the deer in
we considered them our best crop 
 
Suzy Bean
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Just read the article on perennial wheat in Small Farm Today, Winter 2010, and the author was talking about how even though first-year perennial plantings had an averaged 35% lower production than annual wheat, the other benefits could easily make up for it. They require less maintenance, and protect the soil. You spend less on input--less tilling and planting, and lower seed costs. Yearlong competition against weeds--potential grazing time. Possible subsidies through conservation efforts.
Lots to still be studied though.
 
John Polk
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Here is an image of a cross between  corn and eastern gamma grass (a close relative)

 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Interesting article on the subject, it seems like this idea is growing on the USDA

http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2011-05-07-perennial-corn-crops_n.htm

Scientists work on perennial crops to cut damage to land
By Philip Brasher, The Des Moines RegisterPosted 05/07/2011 01:20:29 PM |  46 |  4
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WASHINGTON -- The time could come when farmers aren't getting on their tractors every spring to plant their crops, or even plowing their fields, exposing those fields to erosion.


Nati Harnik, AP
farmer takes advantage of good weather to plow a field near Fort Calhoun, Neb., on April 4, 2011.
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Nati Harnik, AP
farmer takes advantage of good weather to plow a field near Fort Calhoun, Neb., on April 4, 2011.
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At least that's the vision of a few scientists -- and a senior Obama administration official -- who want to develop perennial versions of corn, wheat, rice and other crops that don't need to be planted every year and wouldn't cause the environmental damage linked to growing conventional grains.
"Getting to the yields of today's corn in central Iowa with a perennial corn will not happen quickly, but I do think it is possible," said Ed Buckler, an Agriculture Department scientist at Cornell University in New York. "With prior technology, it would have taken 100-plus years. Now, I think we can do it in 20 years with a concerted effort."
The idea of replacing annual food crops with perennials has long been on the fringe of agricultural research, largely confined to a private facility in Kansas called the Land Institute.
But Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, a lead author of the nation's organic food standards during a previous stint at the USDA, has been talking up perennial grains as a promising way to produce food with less environmental impact.
"We're interested in the development of perennial grains -- big seeds, high yields," she said at a recent food-policy conference in Washington. "These plants with deep roots to hold the soil in place and pick up water and nutrients year-round could reduce the demand for water over the more typical annual grain that produce a big harvest but die each year."
She noted that the USDA is financing some initial research into the genetic basis of perennialism and developing the genetics for breeding perennial crops.
However, perennial crops have little appeal to today's agribusiness, including seed giants like Pioneer Hi-Bred and Monsanto.
"They depend on selling a lot of seed every year," said Bill Beavis, interim director of Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute. "I'm not sure the perennials ever catch up just because they don't have the resources" in terms of research funding.
So far, the USDA is spending nothing close to what scientists say the research needs.
An article last year in the journal Science co-authored by Buckler and scientists at the Land Institute and elsewhere, said perennial grain crops could be ready in 20 years but that it would take a monetary commitment comparable to what the government is now putting into developing biofuel crops.
The USDA has asked Congress for $1 million in fiscal 2012 for perennial grain or sunflower research at its own labs, a slight increase over this year's money. In 2009-10, the department provided about $1.5 million in grants for perennial grains research at the Land Institute and a few universities.
A serious effort to breed perennial corn crops would require spending $1 million to $2 million for five years to identify the genes necessary for perennialism, Buckler said. After that, $10 million to $20 million a year and dozens of scientists would be needed to breed a perennial corn that could eventually be commercialized, he said.
With deep roots, perennial crops would prevent top soil from washing away, lessening the need for nitrogen fertilizer and reducing the amount of farm chemicals that pollute rivers and streams.
"Before agriculture, 95% of the Earth's ice-free land surface was covered by mixtures of perennial plants," said Stan Cox, senior research scientist at the Land Institute, which has focused on crops such as wheat because of the center's location in Kansas. "On land like that, you see virtually no erosion."
It's a steep challenge to develop perennials that can produce grain at the rate of annuals, which have fed humans for millennia. There are tradeoffs when breeding plants for producing seed, or grain, or for longevity, scientists say. Perennials put much of their efforts into developing roots, rather than seeds.
Still, Buckler said it's theoretically possible to develop perennials that produce even more grain than annuals, based on the fact that perennials have a longer growing season and won't need to re-grow their roots.
Iowa State economist Chad Hart said it will be tough to come up with a perennial crop that can be as attractive to farmers as today's corn. Last year's harvest of more than 12 billion bushels was worth $67 billion. Farmers in Iowa are expected to earn $300 an acre growing corn, meaning that a farmer with 500 acres could make $150,000, after expenses.
"That's a massive crop market," Hart said. "Trying to develop something that will replace even part of that is a massive achievement."
 
Wi Tim
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Here is the article from National Geographic on this subject:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/04/big-idea/perennial-grains-text
 
Dale Hodgins
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Jerusalem artichokes are perennial. Sunflowers are annual. They are related, so this would seem like a good candidate for perenialization. My spell checker doesn't recognize my new word "perenialization". You saw it first here.
 
David Hernick
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I have been adding diversity to my patchy rye grass lawn and slowly transitioning it to a lawn-style perennial grain field. I have only lived at my house, in Oakland, CA, a couple years and have cut off summer watering because of the drought so there have been increasing larger bare patches. I have had good success with subterranean clover in the winter, but am moving to:
Perennial Grains: Millwright perennial rye (from seed savers) & Oikos tree crops perennial wheat;
Other grasses: Perennial ryegrass (existing) & buffalo grass (seeding has been more successful than plugs so far);
Perennial nitrogen fixers( from seed): ground plum milk vetch, alfalfa, strawberry clover.
The pictures show runner transplants of the perennial wheat I got from Oikos tree crops, since the pictures were taken repeated mowing has made the perennial grain spread out more.
photo 1.JPG
[Thumbnail for photo 1.JPG]
Perennial wheat and clover in a lawn
photo 2.JPG
[Thumbnail for photo 2.JPG]
Transplanted perennial wheat runners
 
Jason Padvorac
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David Hernick -- can you post an updated picture of what this looks like after more mowing? I've been wondering about making lawns out of these grains, and would love to see more what of what it looks like. And any other takeaways or lessons you've learned.

John Polk -- are you still growing that Corn - Gamma grass cross? I'd love an update! Perennial corn is on my list to breed, and I just got some Zea diploperennis seeds to cross with corn. Looks like you are in my neck of the woods, maybe we could do a seed swap some time.
 
David Hernick
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Jason, sure thing. I will try and take the pictures later this week.   My push mower is really too short for the "perennial wheat" it really gets hacked when I mow it.  I have not gotten any seed to set from the "perennial wheat" mother plant let alone the lawn since I keep mowing it.  I hope it is just the conditions and not that it is sterile.  The Millwright perennial rye flowered nicely and integrates well with the lawn, too bad I have very few plants in the mix.  I just seeded tomcat clover(Trifolium willdenovii), a native, & indian ricegrass.  I had to pull a lot of the sub-terrain clover recently, before seeding, since it overtakes the grasses and leaves the lawn bear in the summer.  I have a ton of lawn grubs right now which is probably why lawn was patchy to begin with,  I hope to be pasturing my chickens on it next spring once it is less patchy.  I recommend starting from bear ground, it has been constant work patching the bald spots. Also gain experience with the species you are going to plant a lot of before going big with them.
 
Jason Padvorac
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Very good information, thank you! I look forward to seeing the pictures.
 
David Hernick
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So it is October 21 here in California and we got about an inch rain a week ago.  I  got the chance to do some work on it before the rains, including mowing.  So these pictures are about 7 days after mowing.

One picture is of the perennial wheat/intermediate wheatgrass which you can see is spreading quite a bit, but it is really being held back by the mowing.

The other picture is on the Millwright perennial rye (Secale monanum) it has really integrated well with the existing "perennial ryegrass". 

There is a southern magnolia next-door that drops a lot of large leathery leaves which the intermediate wheatgrass quickly grows above.   The short grass that make a more traditional lawn needs more attention so it does not get smothered by these leaves.

I have become interested in adding Blue wildrye (Elymus glaucus) to fill in gaps in the perennial grain lawn/useful prairie lawn I am trying to create.  I collected some wildrye seed in a woodland meadow in a nearby park and scattered it in my garden.  A wildrye plant popped up a couple inches from a goumi and has produced lot of seed, probably because it is irrigated.  I like it because it is a native, perennial and the seeds edible and pretty big. 
Thinopyrum-intermedium_in_Lawn.JPG
[Thumbnail for Thinopyrum-intermedium_in_Lawn.JPG]
Secale-montanum_millwright.JPG
[Thumbnail for Secale-montanum_millwright.JPG]
 
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