Kernza Wheatgrass

©Ali Bertke 2015

©Ali Bertke 2015

© Ali Bertke 2015

© Ali Bertke 2015

In lieu of the nationally recognized Brew Week event held here in Athens within the past few weeks, a new kind of wheatgrass has arrived in the Southeast Ohio region thanks to Steve Culman from Ohio State University. This wheatgrass, or “superwheat”, Kernza, is a perennial plant that has the potential to simultaneously provide a food source and also repair damage to overused soils. The fact that Kernza’s roots remain intact throughout the winter months allow for the soils in which they grow to hold together and resist erosion. Not only does this save the actual, physical landscape, but also retains the soil’s key minerals such as nitrogen and phosphorous. As we continue to overplant and stress agricultural lands, we are losing more and more arable land to erosion and nutrient depletion each passing year. Two of the biggest crops in America, corn and soy, cause nearly irreparable damage to the land on which they’re planted year after year. This is due to different effects that their systems have on the soil. Both plants limit nitrogen availability which, coupled with erosion and a lack in restorative techniques, has been leaving acre after acre abandoned and barren. Kernza, on the other hand, has long, strong roots which reach up to 10 feet into the earth allowing for the soil and nutrients to be held together, rather than lost. Unlike corn and most other big agricultural crops, Kernza survives through the winter and does not need to be torn up and replanted every year. Also, the land does not have to be tilled before planting the wheatgrass. Both of these beneficial factors help reduce the impact of soil erosion. Slowly, this new crop has been making its way across the country for people to experiment with, and it has finally reached farmers in the Southeast Ohio region such as John Gutekenst, Michelle Adjaman, Larry Cowdery, and Matt Starline. Though it will be months before we can tell if the perennial grows well here, it will be years before we can truly determine if it has the ability to maintain and repair soils in the area while simultaneously providing a good source of grain.

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