Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010 10:00 AM
Scientists are calling for more financial support for perennial grain research.
John Reganold, Washington State University regents professor of soil science, and Jerry Glover, agroecologist at the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., recently wrote an article for the journal Science about the role perennial grains will likely play in feeding the world.
Perennial grains would have a longer growing season than annual grains, can withstand more extreme temperatures and would come back every year, Reganold said. Some wild perennial grains can last up to 20 years.
"Some perennial grains may go five years, some may go for seven, some may go a lot longer," he said.
Perennial grains would reduce tillage, provide a cover all year and reduce the use of fuel and herbicides, he said.
"They offer so much potential, both for helping to feed the planet but also they are so ecological," Reganold said. "They grow on our best farmlands, but they are especially good on marginal lands where annual grain crops don't do so well."
That's because perennial grains have a deep, thick root system, Reganold said. The roots can pull up more nutrients and access more water, reducing nutrient runoff into groundwater. Soil erosion would also be reduced.
Reganold and Glover contacted about 27 geneticists, plant breeders and ecologists worldwide for their critique of the paper.
Reganold expects at least one or two perennial grains will be developed within the next 20 years, depending on the number of breeders or geneticists involved.
The Land Institute has been working on perennial wheat, barley and sorghum. Perennial wheat studied at WSU has not been high-yielding.
Washington Sen. Mark Schoesler, a farmer in the Ritzville, Wash., area, said he has been raising perennial grains for WSU researchers Stephen Jones and Tim Murray.
Schoesler said there haven't been any requests specific to perennial grains, although the industry and researchers have received some support.
At a certain point, further financial support might be required, he said, but right now he doesn't feel perennial grains should be singled out for special help at the expense of other projects.
"We've been successful and made progress with the resources we have," he said.
The benefits speak for themselves when considering wind erosion in the Northwest's dryland areas or hilltops in the Palouse, he said.
"Some people are going to like it for the conservation aspect, some like it to be the low-cost producer," he said. "
Perennial grains may prove to be a tool in competing with countries like Ukraine, which don't have as many environmental requirements compared to U.S. farmers.
"If we're going to level out the playing field, it's one tool that could very well work for us," Schoesler said.
For the article go to http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/328/5986/1638