With perennial rice at hand, is perennial wheat far behind?

A farmer walks near cultivated rice laid on a paddy field during the rice harvesting season in Samroang Kandal village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Jan. 26. researchers will soon introduce a perennial variety of rice in China and elsewhere. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Perennial rice may soon become available to farmers in China and Australia, but researchers say perennial wheat is a decade or more from introduction.

Perennial rice is bred to regrow after harvest over several growing seasons, said Tim Crews, director of research at the nonprofit Land Institute in Salina, Kan.

A perennial rice crop would reduce labor, input costs and weed pressure, he said.

“We don’t know how many seasons the current lines will produce, but we know that at least four currently is what’s been achieved,” Crews said. “The long-term goal would be to have them produce for quite some time, repeatedly, year after year.”

The institute provided some funding for research and visited test sites to monitor progress at the Food Crops Research Institute of the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China.

Perennial rice may soon be released in China, said Len Wade, strategic research professor at Charles Sturt University in Australia. He is also involved in the rice trials.

A long-standing goal for the grains industry, perennial wheat, is still under development, Wade said. The wheat genome is far more complex than that of rice.

In the United States, Stephen Jones, director of Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon, Wash., estimated perennial wheat will become available in 10 to 15 years. Jones’ team is looking at the forage value of perennials. He is involved in a perennial wheat project headed by University of Georgia researchers.

Perennial rice research is also underway at the University of Illinois.

Crews said the researchers’ approaches are similar, but there’s no direct link between perennial wheat and perennial rice.

However, any progress in one project informs the other, he said, noting the Chinese institute is also making good strides on perennial wheat.

“The more people thinking about both of the crops, the better,” he said.

“(Perennial wheat) could quickly accelerate if we understood some things about it that we don’t quite yet understand,” Crews said. “It could have a quantum leap or it could actually take quite a bit more time.”

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