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Science Paper Calls for More Research Into Perennial Grain Crops

Friday, July 09, 2010 by: Aaron Turpen
Tags: grains, crops, health news

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(NewsTarget) Ask any knowledgeable gardener to tell you what kinds of plants are easiest to grow and care for and they'll tell you: perennials. As opposed to one-season wonders, perennial crops grow deeper roots, stronger bonds with the soil, are easier to care for, and are better for the ecosystem around and under them then their single-season counterparts.

Scientists around the world are working towards replacing one of humanity's largest staple crops (grains) with perennial alternatives. A paper published in the June 25th issue of Science, penned by more than two dozen authors including scientists, plant breeders, and geneticists, calls for more work to be done towards creating breeds of grain crops that grow perennially.1

These plants, say the paper's authors, have the great benefits of all perennials: lower need for water, fertilizers, and more. In addition, these hardier plants will grow better in more marginal soils, which means they can be grown in areas of Africa and Asia where food security is non-existent.

Because their roots go much deeper (up to 12 feet in some experimental strains), these grains would aid in mitigating soil erosion, are better able to capture nutrients and water, and are thus more drought tolerant than current popular grain strains. They also require fewer passes from farm equipment (less work) and for industrial farming would mean less herbicide and much less fertilization - especially nitrates. Organic farmers would also find it easier to care for and build the soil around perennial grains.

Annual grains can lose five times as much water as perennial crops and more than 35 times as much nitrate, says the paper. Less nitrogen use means less runoff into rivers and streams and less pollution - nitrogen runoff being the largest contributor to bay water "dead zones" in the world today.

Perennial grain research and breeding is taking place in Argentina, Australia, China, India, Sweden, and the United States. The lead author on the study, soil scientist and Regents Professor John Reganold of Washington State University, says that the use of perennials would also mean more sustainable agricultural methods due to the lower need for equipment and manpower as well as less additives and other negatives associated with today's mono-cropping.

"People talk about food security," says Reganold. "That's only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security."

Most of the work in regards to perennial grains involves one of two approaches. Many breeders are attempting to take current, modern breeds and cross-breed with or selectively choose for perennial mutation. The other approach is to take wild grain perennials and breed them towards crop production, repeating the steps of humankind's ancestors who first began agriculture ten thousand years ago.

Both approaches are promising, but the study's authors are in agreement that it will take at least two decades to get to commercial perennial grains at the current pace. More funding and initiative is needed to speed up the process.

1 - Increased Food and Ecosystem Security via Perennial Grains by J.D. Glover, J.P. Reganold, et al, Science, June 25, 2010

2 - Journal "Science": Agriculture's Next Revolution "Perennial Grain" Within Sight, by Eric Sorensen, Washington State University URAI

3 - The Sustainability Factor by Aaron Turpen

About the author

Aaron Turpen is a professional writer living in Wyoming in the USA. His blogs cover organic/sustainable living and environmental considerations (AaronsEnvironMental.com) and the science debunking mainstream medical and proving alternatives (HiddenHealthScience.com).

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