How a Different Kind of Cereal Could Help Save the Planet

Chalk it up to a perennial change in farming

A newfangled cereal comes from a perennial grain. (Getty)
A newfangled cereal comes from a perennial grain. (Getty)
Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Breakfast of champions could have a whole new meaning. Thank, at least in part, Kernza, whose official name is intermediate wheatgrass, reports NPR. A perennial, the plant is a distant relative of regular wheat, but it’s never been grown as a grain crop because it produces far less seed than wheat.

But now, according to NPR, that’s changing. Kernza is at the center of “a radical campaign to re-invent agriculture, and reverse an environmentally disastrous choice made by our distant ancestors.”

The campaign began more than four decades ago with a scientist and environmentalist named Wes Jackson, who argued that humanity took a wrong turn, thousands of years ago, when it came to rely on annual crops like wheat and rice. “As farmers use tillage tools or  herbicides to get rid of competing vegetation, they inevitably wipe away habitat for birds and insects,” reports NPR. “Bare soil washes away and pollutes streams and rivers. Tilling the soil releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

Jackson imagined a 180-degrees different style of farming using perennials and established the Land Institute in Kansas to research it. They now actually have some examples of grain from perennial plants to show off. The first is Kenza, which General Mills, the company that makes Cheerios and Wheaties, has expressed interest in making a cereal out of.

That said, Land Institute president Fred Iutzi cautioned not to expect too much, too soon.”Commercial production of Kernza in 2019 is akin to taking a car for a test drive when it’s halfway down the assembly line.”

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