Cereal giant, General Mills, has contributed $500,000 in research funding for Kernza, a perennial grain related to wheat. As well as its potential nutritional benefits, Kernza is being touted as an “earth-friendly” grain, with root systems that improve soil health, water retention and carbon sequestration.
General Mills’ subsidiary, Cascadian Farm, has entered into an agreement to buy a starting amount of Kernza. According to The Land Institute, the agricultural research organization that is developing the grain, Kernza is well suited to incorporation into breads, baked goods and cereals.
“We believe in the potential of this grain to make a positive ecological impact, and this helps us live up to the expectation that our consumers have for Cascadian Farm and continue to be a pioneer in organic farming and land stewardship,” Carla Vernón, vice-president of Cascadian Farm, told Food Business News. Cascadian Farm’s promise to purchase some of the grain will allow farmers working with The Land Institute to plant large commercial-scale fields of Kernza.
The half-million charitable donation will be used to support the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative. In collaboration with The Land Institute, the researchers are focused on developing grains, pulses and other economically-viable crops capable of being grown together in perennial polycultures. Traditional agriculture systems have focused on farming monocultures – one type of crop, such as wheat or corn, grown in sprawling fields.
The ecological benefits of Kernza – also known as intermediate wheatgrass – lie in its root system. Kernza roots are denser and grow two times as deep as annual wheat roots, eliminating the need for farmers to till and disrupt the soil each year to replant the perennial grain.
“Research has demonstrated that the ecological benefits of Kernza perennial grain for agricultural systems are remarkable,” said Dr. Lee DeHaan, lead scientist at The Land Institute. “The length, size and long life of the roots enable the grain to provide measurable soil health benefits and drought resistance while preventing soil erosion and storing critical nutrients, potentially turning agriculture into a soil-forming ecosystem.
“This partnership with General Mills and investment by Cascadian Farm promises to be a significant boost, helping take this planet-friendly grain to the next level of viability as a food ingredient,” continued DeHaan. “Additionally we anticipate it will allow researchers to more precisely measure the impact of widespread Kernza perennial grain cultivation on carbon sequestration.”