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U of M Professors, Students Developing 'Next Generation of Crops'

A new kind of crop could drastically change how Minnesota farmers do their jobs.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are working on a wheat that you don't have to replant, and you could find it in stores soon.

Perennial crops are convenient because farmers don't have to be re-plant them year after year, and now perennial wheat grass could be the future.

"Farmers want new options," Don Wyse, an agronomy professor at the University of Minnesota, said.

Now they may have one in the form of Kernza.

"They're very excited," Wyse said.

Wyse helped launch the Forever Green Agriculture Initiative. Unlike the typical annual crop, this perennial wheat grass has roots that dig deeper into the earth to reach water and nutrients, helping it grow in the bitter cold and saving farmers a whole lot of time and resources.

"Farmers want the opportunity to protect their land," Wyse said.

Kernza itself isn't necessarily new. However, researchers are now turning it into something for people and not just livestock.

"We think that it can be used as a substitute in some wheat products," Jim Anderson, a plant breeder who works closely with Kernza, said. 

Not only are farmers getting a look into just how beneficial Kernza is, but some food services in the Twin Cities are getting a sneak peek. A few weeks ago, the team at Common Roots Catering served up Kernza crackers and a dessert with the ingredient while catering for the University of Minnesota.

"It's different to work with," Andy Comeaux, executive chef at Common Roots Catering, said. "It required some tweaking to the recipes."

The all important question is how does it taste?

"I was surprised at how good they turned out," Comeaux said.

There's plenty of advantages to Kernza.

"We're progressing food production, environmental services, and economics for the farmers all in one package so it's really exciting in what we can accomplish," Lee Dehaan, a plant breeder who works closely with Kernza, said.

Before it hits shelves in grocery stores, plenty of work remains.

"I would love to be able to use it more," Comeaux said.

"This is the future; we are developing the next generation of crops," Wyse said.