Perennial wheat? Land Institute continues search

Annual wheat is grown on more acres than any other grain crop, at 548 million acres worldwide, followed by corn at 445 million acres and rice at 399 million acres. It accounts for 20 percent of human food calories and more protein calories than any other grain.

The Land Institute, based in Salina, established the perennial wheat program in 2001 with the goal of developing perennial wheat that is economically viable for farmers and replaces the global food calories of annual wheat.

Breeding program

The perennial wheat program at The Land Institute creates hybrids made from crossing annual wheat species—including bread wheat and durum wheat used for making pasta—with wheatgrass species (especially intermediate wheatgrass, which is the same species being domesticated as Kernza®).

Many successful hybrids have been achieved between wheat and wheatgrass. They are being used to understand the genetic contribution of the annual and perennial parents.

Other research partners around the world have made similar crosses between annual and perennial wheat.

Twenty of the most promising crosses are being grown in nine different countries to see how particular genetic types vary in performance when grown under a broad range of environmental conditions.

Slow, steady progress

Elite lines of perennial wheat yield grain about 50-70 percent that of annual wheat cultivars.

Perenniality—the ability of the plant to regrow after grain harvest and to survive harsh winters and/or summers—is also highly variable depending on environ­mental conditions.

Some of our perennial wheat plants in Kansas have lived for more than six years. In other locations, stands of perennial wheat have persisted for many more years.

Our breeding program continues to seek improvement on a number of plant traits including perenniality and yield. Although we see steady improvement every year, we expect it could take another 10-20 years to develop an economically viable perennial wheat variety.

We are partnering with researchers worldwide to develop perennial wheat. Read more about our research partners here.

With a goal as bold as “changing the way the world grows its food,” we know that partners are a critical element to success. The Land Institute’s research partners provide insight, operations support, connectivity, and an expanded community of brainpower and technical capacity.

Our research partners and collaborators are helping to develop natural systems agriculture. In many ways, plant breeding is a numbers game—the more experimental lines evaluated, the better our odds of developing superior, high-yielding perennial crop varieties.

Although The Land Institute is headquartered in Salina, our global partnerships spread our researchers’ knowledge and botanical germplasm across five continents with diverse climates and soil types.

With our partners, we are dedicated to ensuring worldwide food security without compromising ecosystems integrity through locally adapted, perennial agriculture systems.

For more information about The Land Institute and its work in the area of perennial crops, go to landinstitute.org.