General Mills invests in 'planet-friendly' grain

by Jeff Gelski
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Kernza grain
Cascadian Farm may investigate ways to use Kernza in cereal and snacks.
Photo courtesy of the Land Institute. 
 
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA, U.S. — General Mills, Inc. has approved a $500,000 charitable contribution to support research on Kernza, a perennial grain with deep roots that show promise in providing benefits in soil health, carbon sequestration, water retention and wildlife habitat.

Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.-based General Mills is the parent company of Cascadian Farm, which has agreed to buy an initial amount of Kernza. The grain tastes sweet and nutty and may be used as an ingredient for cereal and snacks.

“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,” said Carla Vernón, vice-president of Cascadian Farm.

General Mills’ donation will go to the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota in partnership with The Land Institute, a non-profit organization based in Salina, Kansas, U.S. Agronomists and ecologists with The Land Institute seek to develop perennial grains, pulses and oilseed-bearing plants to be grown in ecologically intensified, diverse crop mixtures known as perennial polycultures.

Cascadian Farm agreeing to buy an initial amount of Kernza will allow The Land Institute to arrange with farmers to plant on commercial-scale fields versus the test-sized plots where Kernza currently is grown.

General Mills since 2014 has worked alongside The Land Institute and the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences to research Kernza. The grain (intermediate wheatgrass) has roots that grow twice as deep, or close to 10 feet, and are greater in density than annual wheat roots. Farmers who produce Kernza do not need to till and replant the perennial crop every year, which minimizes disruption to the soil.

“Research has demonstrated that the ecological benefits of Kernza perennial grain for agricultural systems are remarkable,” said Lee DeHaan, Ph.D., 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 plans to plant an acre test plot this fall on a company farm next to the Skagit River in the U.S. state of Washington. Cascadian Farm will monitor and research how the grain fares in the temperate rainforest ecosystem in partnership with The Land Institute.
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