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Researchers Step Up Commercialization of Perennial Wheat Substitute Grain

Kernza, a perennial wheatgrass and “distant cousin to wheat”, has been bred by researchers at the University of Minnesota since 2011. The grain is currently being used in consumer products such as beer and cereal, and as its popularity grows, research and commercialization efforts in connection to the grain are stepping up.

Since the early 2000s the Kansas-based Land Institute, which owns the trademark for kernza, has been working on developing the grain into a commercially viable crop, and has since joined with UMN’s Forever Green Initiative to work together on both research and commercialization.

Since 2011 the UMN team has worked to develop a kernza variety with “better plant architecture”, resulting in a plant with a decreased height, overcoming the issue of excessive plant height making the crop prone to falling over. The crop is also environmentally friendly as it does not need to be replanted each season, and its root system prevents soil erosion and nutrient runoff.

Last month, an initial kernza variety (MN-Clearwater) was released on the market by the University’s Forever Green Initiative that has improved traits compared to previous varieties, and as the team continues to work to increase yields, plans are in place for greater commercialization efforts for the grain over the coming years.

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