Perennial Grain Presentation Among the Many Sessions Offered at 2021 OEFFA Conference
Learn more about the perennial grain kernza and see the trial plot in this brief video: https://youtu.be/epJaE5ihiVE (3:17)
Only a few days are left to reserve your spot at Ohio’s largest sustainable food and farming conference. Registration ends on Monday, February 8 for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 42nd annual conference, which will be held online February 10-15.
Among the speakers from Ohio State this year, extension soil specialist Steve Culman will be sharing information on his USDA perennial grain trials. This is Culman’s second research project on the perennial wheatgrass known as kernza. He is testing an organic variety of kernza for suitability in Ohio as a dual-purpose crop (forage and grain production). This summer his lab will begin on-farm trials and is looking for additional participants.
Kernza is used mainly for forage and grazing in the western U.S. While the grain has end uses and nutritional values similar to wheat, Culman admits the grain production is not very good and that markets and facilities for kernza are only just developing. While it has potential for dual purpose production, more research and development will be needed.
So why would a farmer consider kernza? Because it has a third purpose of great importance: Soil health.
“Organic systems go through this dichotomous cycle of growing cash crops, and then growing a crop for conservation or soil development," Culman notes. "With kernza you could do both.”
Recent Ohio State research reviewed hundreds of regional soil tests results, comparing management practices with various soil health measurements linked to yield, biological activity, and fertilizer efficiency. The most effective management practice for improving soil health was the use of perennials. Perennial crops reduce traffic and tillage, but they also leave roots in the ground year-round to contribute to biological activity, provide below-ground biomass, and crowd out weed growth. Kernza really shines in root development, with roots that reach 10 feet down or deeper and spread horizontally to outcompete weeds.
“Kernza stays pretty green through harvest,” says Culman. “It’s not like wheat. You harvest the grain in late July/early August. So you could harvest the grain, then chop or hay the remaining biomass. Then you can let it regrow. This is not enough time to develop seed heads, but the regrowth should get knee high or so in the fall. Then it can be grazed."
Based on his previous trials, Culman feels kernza has great potential for organic transition, weed control, riparian zones, forage, fall grazing, and even grain production, all while improving soil quality.
The OEFFA conference kernza presentation will be Friday, February 12 at 10 a.m., but conference attendees will also be able to watch recorded presentations through March. Dr. Culman will also be available in the OFFER virtual conference booth on Friday, February 12 from 2-3 p.m. for anyone who would like to know more about the on-farm kernza trials or to chat about soil health and fertility.
See the full line up of OFFER booth events at offer.osu.edu/booth. We will also host Glen Arnold, extension field specialist in manure management; Erin Silva from University of Wisconsin and OGRAIN; and Rich Minyo, organic corn variety trial researcher.
For more information on the OEFFA conference, visit https://conference.oeffa.org/.
To learn more about the soil health and management study findings, join us for "Management Practices That Impact Soil Health and Organic Matter with Christine Sprunger, March 17 at 11 a.m., part of the OFFER 2021 Organic Winter Webinar series.