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Perennial Wheat Called Kernza Shows Ability to Remove Nitrates From Soil

Scientists from the University of Minnesota planted Kernza - a perennial kind of wheat with roots twice as long as common annual wheats - around wells within corn and soybean fields west of Brainerd. The results were significant.

Over three years of growth, the Kernza cut nitrate contamination from the cornfields by 96 percent, and cut contamination of the soybean fields by 86 percent - showing that even small platings of Kernza can have an outsized effect on the condition of the soil, and may be able to protect water supplies, saving taxpayers the cost of expensive nitrate mitigation systems.

The university has been conducting similar trial plantings around wells across the state, and in each case nitrates in the soil and water under the crop fall to a fraction of what they were. The goal, however, is not to replace corn or soybeans with Kernza, but to rotate Kernza in for a few seasons, or to plant it around wells and water supplies - as more than 50 communities in Minnesota have now reached, or are exceeding federal safety guidelines for nitrate contamination.

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