The biggest advance since farming: perennial grains

By 2030, perennial grains could be agriculture's next big breakthrough since farming.

Perennial grains could be the biggest innovation since farming.

Unlike annual crops, perennial grain crops don't need to be planted every year, thus reducing the amount of fertilizer and lessening soil erosion.

Today, half the population is fed off of land that is not farmed sustainably — which could be improved if the crops aren't annually produced.

Perennial grains might be the game changer. Washington State University researchers predict perennial grains will be common by 2030.

In a statement:

“People talk about food security,” said [John Reganold, a Washington State University Regents professor of soil science]. “That’s only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security.”

Compared to annual grains, perennial grains have:

  • longer growing seasons
  • deeper roots (10 to 12 feet down)
  • hold down topsoil
  • reduce erosion
  • build soil
  • sequester carbon from the air
  • reduce farm equipment maintenance requirements
  • use less herbicide

Will perennial grains really be the answer to feeding our hungry planet? Perhaps. Not only are the perennial grains efficient, they can be bred easily from annual crops.

The perennial wheat breeding programs will mature, but the speed depends on how it's funded. If the same emphasis is placed on breeding programs for perennial grains that is already in place for alternative fuel, then perennial grains will fill our stomachs sooner than later.

National Geographic 2010 Emerging Explorer Jerry Glover of the Land Institute talks about perennial grains:

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Update for clarification.

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