Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

RANCH MUSINGS: Perennial cereals and their potential to heal

I was excited to read that Intermediate wheatgrass is now approved for human use in the U.S.

I was excited to read that intermediate wheatgrass is now approved for human use in the U.S.

This report is featured in the New Seed Variety Guide for 2021 put out by the Western Producer, Canada’s preeminent farm newspaper.

Now if you are a cattle producer you might know about this crop as a cattle feed, mostly as a grazing plant.

If you have had an eye on innovation in agriculture then you might know about the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, or the more recent Minnesota Land Institute that launched a commercial variety which has been under development for 20 years.

The variety recently released for sale is a human food grade called MN Clearwater. It is promoted as “superfood with environmental and health benefits.”

As ranchers and farmers, we are always looking for better nutrition for our animals and as consumers we are all looking for nutrient dense foods since the industrial system of food productions often reduces the nutrient content, especially the micronutrient (essential for health) content.

READ MORE: Impacts of COVID-19 on food systems

I have written before about the Land Institute in Kansas and its leadership in developing crops that don’t need to be seeded every year (annuals) with all the attendant costs of farming the land: plowing, disking, harrowing, seeding etc.

In a nutshell what the Land Institute in Kansas and their Minnesota partners aim to do is to advance perennial (lasting many years without reseeding) grains and polycultures (many crops all sewn together).

The Minnesota Land Institute has developed the first new grain crop in 4,200 years. The founding Kansas Institute set about developing the first perennial grains and figured it would take 50 to 100 years to commercialize such crops.

It was 1976 that Wes and Dana Jackson founded the Land Institute when his research science jobs at universities were taking a different tact: inventing destructive crop practices that used up soil and polluted land and water.

That was 45 years ago. Some beneficial innovations take decades.

Now to feed the world without depreciating the sustainability of farming practices and the land, this innovation is welcomed.

The scientists and farmers behind this new (old) crop are hopeful intermediate wheat grass grain can be mixed with traditional wheats for cooking and baking.

Beer fans will be interested that one of the first food products from the MN Clearwater variety is Kernza Ale or Long Root Ale. Yes, beer is food.

READ MORE: Flooding fun enjoyed by Cariboo family

The ecological benefits of this perennial plant, is that it can use nutrients that might otherwise be lost to the soil and the long vigorous roots systems can build healthy soil.

Intermediate wheatgrass is native to Europe and Western Asia. I see the potential to plant this crop as a part of a rotation designed to help grow and finish beef locally, since we are not a big grain growing region.

If the animals can graze, it may be cost effective. Plus, it is a grass and grassing beef programs can use it.

Check this crop out with Peace Forage Tools, from a neighbouring crop trial region.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

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