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Above and belowground biomass of annual wheat(left) vs. Kernza(right) over a season. Image Credit: Lee DeHaan

One of my favorite projects from the summer that we are currently wrapping up harvesting, is intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) which goes by the tradename Kernza. Kernza is a perennial grain developed by breeders at the Land Institute. Kernza mimics a natural perennial system which does not require planting annually. Kernza also has the potential to be a dual purpose crop used for both grain and forage. It is very exciting to work with an idea as novel as this and I cannot wait to see where Kernza goes in the future.

There were a few primary experiments that I worked on during my time with the lab. Primarily, I assisted with assessing productivity in intermedium wheatgrass. Before I joined the lab, multiple timing and frequency of forage and grain harvest as well as N application rates were applied and monitored. I assisted with the measuring of total plot forage biomass removed through completing crop biomass cuts, weighing wet and dry samples to determine forage moisture, grinding the material so it can be sent to another lab for forage quality testing, and separating, counting and weighing seed heads to determine grain yield.

The other study I assisted with was exploring the potential of companion-planting red clover with intermediate wheatgrass. We wanted to know if a nitrogen-fixing crop such as red clover could supply sufficient nitrogen for Kernza, potentially abolishing the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. In addition, I helped hand weed plots to determine the yield potential of Kernza in the absence of weeds.

Some perennial grains fields I helped manage and harvest were planted by local farmers to test growing on sloped and erodible land. Meeting the farmers over the course of the summer was very enjoyable because they all had great stories

Observed Difference in color between Kernza Clover Intercropping (Left) and Kernza Monoculture (right)

Developing Kernza Seed head

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