Kernza: The Perennial Grain With the Potential to Change Agriculture Forever

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Oct. 25 2021, Published 2:38 p.m. ET

If you haven’t heard about Kernza, don’t feel too bad. This amazing grain was first developed by the scientists at The Land Institute in 2008. Since then, this scientific marvel has inspired many farmers and agricultural scientists to take a closer look into the development of similar perennial grains. What is Kernza, you may ask? Well, it isn’t just a fad food or a scientific anomaly, it’s a food product that has the potential to change agriculture forever.

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What is Kernza?

Kernza is a newly-domesticated form of wheatgrass that was designed to be planted from a single seed and regrow on its own, year after year. This would make it unique amongst most other commercial or industrial crops, which are usually annual and need to be replanted every year. According to The Washington Post, annual crops require enormous amounts of water, fertilizer, and energy, not to mention the habitat destruction and soil degradation they promote.

With Kernza, the growing process is completely different. The roots remain in the soil, storing carbon and regrowing the plants to be harvested the next year. This cuts down on soil erosion, fertilizer use, and energy requirements. And all of this amounts to a crop that is completely unique amongst other traditional grains like wheat or barley.

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Kernza has a sweet, nutty flavor that makes it perfect for making bread, cereals, and snacks. Though it isn't gluten free, it has less gluten than wheat, according to the official Kernza FAQ page. It can be used whole grain, ground into flour, malted, or directly added to beer and whiskey.

Box of Kernza cereal
Source: PRNewsFoto/Cascadian Farm
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Where can I buy Kernza?

Because it’s still a relatively new product, Kernza products can only be found at certain retailers and online stores. Amazon sells it as flour, as does Perennial Pantry and Columbia County Bread. So far, the majority of Kernza is available as ground flour, but this is simply because its versatility isn’t entirely known just yet. There’s no doubt that this remarkable grain will appear as bread, beer, cereal, and baked goods before too long.

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Why is Kernza good for the environment?

The official Kernza website, brought to us by The Land Institute, has everything that anyone would need to know about Kernza’s amazing properties. Kernza has a deep-set root system that reaches more than 10 feet underground. This makes it an ideal net sink for carbon and a potential option as an effective solution against our current overabundance of atmospheric carbon.

Basically, according to MPR News, Kernza is designed to mimic the way natural ecosystems work, rather than cultivated ones. This amazing grain also requires less fertilizer and fewer toxic pesticides than others of its kind, making it the most eco-friendly option by far.

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How can this perennial grain save agriculture?

A perennial grain like Kernza is a regenerative food source unlike no other, especially considering that its researchers have doubled the seed yield of Kernza over the past decade. This means Kernza has the potential to become of the most sustainable and efficient crops of the modern age.

Some argue that Kernza’s many benefits threaten to turn it into a monocrop like bamboo or palm oil. The Land Institute denies that, and believes Kernza can improve soil, bolster its structural integrity, and protect water resources, rather than deplete them.

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