“The reason that we think Kernza is great for this environment is that we have such unpredictable rainfall,” Rodgers said. “So, for example … if we had a drought year, and there was no harvestable seed, farmers are used to that.” The benefit of Kernza is that the crop could survive that year, and hopefully thrive in a wetter season. Farmers would save on planting costs, the fields wouldn’t be left bare, and the soil would remain protected.
Morrone noted that profitability of Kernza in Wyoming is tricky. She said farmers can expect yields from Kernza to be a third of what annual wheat would produce. And that’s when growing occurs in ideal conditions. But the dry weather of Wyoming could further impact yields.
She added that growing Kernza in eastern Wyoming is “truly a novelty crop.” But Morrone also said it has the potential to be a great fit for the region, “either for grain for flour or even beer, as well as animal feed” when used as an extended-season pasture crop.
At the end of the experiment, the researchers at the University of Wyoming say they hope to have a better idea of the viability of Kernza for dryland ecosystems. Rodgers noted that the team doesn’t expect to see yields like those in wetter climates, but that even low yields would make Kernza a competitive crop for the region.
“And on top of that, it’s building soil health, it’s building long-term fertility, it’s lowering your input costs, it’s using less fossil fuels,” she added. “All those other great things are happening.”