Perennial crops - important components in robust and sustainable production systems?
Use of perennial cereal crops could possibly increase the sustainability of agriculture. One advantage with perennial crops is the saving on annual drilling, which lowers energy consumption and decreases the risk of soil compaction and nutrient losses. It also increases carbon storage in the soil through a longer growing season and a larger root system. Cultivation of perennial cereal crops can thus help to decrease the climate impact. Under future climate change, it will also be necessary to have crops that can tolerate water and drought stress. This assumption is based on predictions that there will be more rainfall in future, but also more drought periods. Plant tolerance to waterlogging is often linked to perenniality with an associated robust growth pattern and deeper rooting system.
There are currently no commercially available perennial cereal varieties. The researchers involved in this project are working on pre-breeding, i.e. on developing genetic material that plant breeding companies can continue to improve.
Picture 1: Anna Westerbergh, research leader for the project ‘Perennial crops – an important component in robust and sustainable production systems?” Photo: Oscar Franzén.
Picture 2: Study of hybrids produced by crossing a perennial wheat species (Thinopyrum intermedium) with bread wheat. Photo: Girma Bedada.
Picture 3: Field trials. Plants produced by crossing a wild perennial barley species (Hordeum bulbosum) with domesticated barley. Photo: Anna Westerbergh.
The researchers are studying wheat and barley in particular, but also kernza (wheatgrass), a new crop. Project aims are to:
- Identify differences in agronomic traits between perennial and annual wheat on soils with differing nutrient status.
- Identify differences in overwintering ability between different lines of perennial wheat.
- Develop perennial barley material for comparisons with annual barley.
- Obtain a deeper knowledge of the genetic background to perennial traits for future breeding of perennial varieties.
- Exchange knowledge with farmers and researchers during the course of the project.
Research on perennial cereal crops is underway at a few sites around the world. Through international contacts, the researchers have obtained access to perennial cultivation material from research groups in Minnesota, Canada, China and Australia that they intend to grow in Sweden. Swedish barley material is also being included in the cultivation trials, which will be of great importance by increasing the quantity, and therefore the reliability, of the results.
“You can say that we are starting again at the point where our ancestors were around 10 000 years ago and searching for genetic resources among the wild strains that can be improved through breeding” (Anna Westerbergh, research leader in the project).
Picture 4: Evaluation of crosses between a wild perennial barley species (Hordeum bulbosum) and domesticated barley. Photo: Anna Westerbergh.
Picture 5: The wild perennial barley genus (Hordeum bulbosum). Photo: Girma Bedada.
Picture 6: Hybrid between a wild perennial wheat species (Thinopyrum intermedium) and bread wheat. Photo: Girma Bedada.
Picture 7: Crossing work. Photo: Anna Westerbergh.
FACTS ON THE PROJECT
Name: Anna Westerbergh, SLU Uppsala
Funding: SEK 7,1 million
Find out more about Anna