General Mills to Commercialize Perennial Wheat03/10/2017
Cascadian Farm, a pioneer in the organic food movement, and parent company General Mills today announced their work with The Land Institute (TLI) to help commercialize organic Kernza, a perennial grain (intermediate wheatgrass) and wild relative of annual wheat, whose deep roots show promise to increase soil health, carbon sequestration, water retention and enhance surrounding wildlife habitat. The sweet- and nutty-tasting grain lends itself particularly well as an ingredient for cereal and snacks.
Cascadian Farm has agreed to purchase an initial amount of the perennial grain which allows TLI to arrange with farmers to plant on commercial-scale fields versus the test sized plots currently being grown.
“From our earliest days, Cascadian Farm has had a deep commitment to creating a positive relationship between food and the land where it is grown,” said Carla Vernón, vice president of Cascadian Farm. “Now, 45 years since our inception, we are excited to incorporate the perennial grain Kernza® into our foods and our organic farming. We believe in the potential of this grain to make a positive ecological impact. And, this helps us live up to the expectation that our consumers have for Cascadian Farm and continue to be a pioneer in organic farming and land stewardship.”
In addition, General Mills approved a $500,000 charitable contribution to the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota in partnership with The Land Institute, to support advanced research to measure the potential of Kernza to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production, determine best management practices for sustainable production, and increase Kernza yields through breeding.
Since 2014, General Mills has worked alongside The Land Institute and University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences to research the viability of Kernza intermediate wheatgrass as an earth-friendly, more sustainable grain.
Kernza is unique in that its roots grow more than twice as deep (upwards of 10 feet) and are greater in density than current annual wheat roots. A perennial, farmers who produce Kernza don’t need to till and replant the crop every year, minimizing disruption to the soil.
Early research shows Kernza’s long roots may help preserve soil, enhance soil health, and reduce nitrogen movement into ground and surface waters.
“Research has demonstrated that the ecological benefits of Kernza perennial grain for agricultural systems are remarkable,” said Dr. Lee DeHaan, lead scientist at The Land Institute. “The length, size, and long life of the roots enable the grain to provide measurable soil health benefits and drought resistance while preventing soil erosion and storing critical nutrients – potentially turning agriculture into a soil-forming ecosystem.
“This partnership with General Mills and investment by Cascadian Farm, promises to be a significant boost, helping take this planet-friendly grain to the next level of viability as a food ingredient. Additionally we anticipate it will allow researchers to more precisely measure the impact of widespread Kernza perennial grain cultivation on carbon sequestration.”
Cascadian Farm has reserved an initial amount of Kernza perennial grain seed and plans to plant an acre test plot this fall on the Cascadian Farm home farm next to the Skagit River in Washington. The farm team will closely monitor and research how the grain fares in the unique temperate rainforest ecosystem in partnership with The Land Institute.
“Incorporating winter annual and perennial crops such as intermediate wheatgrass into agricultural landscapes offers progress towards water quality goals,” said Dr. Brian Buhr, dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. “Support from General Mills is an example of a university – industry partnership that can help translate research into commercial application that in turn helps develop markets to spur further advancement in crops for both food use and ecosystem improvement.”
Cascadian Farm joined General Mills in 2000 as the company’s first organic brand. Cascadian Farm has a history of leading the company’s corporate sustainability efforts, and was recently one of 50 product brands to endorse Carbon Underground’s guidelines for “Regenerative Agriculture” to further the brand’s commitment to soil health by supporting farming practices that have a positive impact.
Other General Mills’ brands who endorsed the guidelines include Annie’s and EPIC Provisions.