Perennials vs. Annuals
Location: The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas
Featuring: John, Emily, and Wes of The Land Institute
Wes Jackson has been domesticating intermediate wheat grass at The Land Institute since the 1970s. Perennials have larger root systems which not only improve soil stability, requiring less tillage and reducing soil erosion, thereby reducing fossil fuel consumption, they also allow farmers to reduce the need for pesticides. Because the plants keep growing, they are less labor intensive overall and promote greater biodiversity.
What does domestication of wheat grass look like? Workers separate seeds from the chaff of intermediate wheatgrass samples using a dehuller. These will be carefully analyzed by researchers. Each successive planting brings Wes closer to his goal, that of replacing annual wheat with more sustainable perennials. According to Wes, the domestication of wheatgrass is expected to take ten to twelve years, after which a commercially viable perennial wheatgrass will become available.
Here, John holds annual wheat, triticum aestivum, that is four feet long, while Wes shows off his hard work—intermediate wheatgrass, thinopyrum intermedium—which is ten feet long.
The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas is focused on a "new paradigm" and the undeniable benefits of perennial crops. The Land institute is in the midst of developing a "plant once, harvest for years to come" perennial wheat for commercial use that could have a huge positive impact on American agricultural practices.