Prairies intermediate wheatgrass three to four years away from release

Doug Cattani looks at three farm-raised crops of intermediate wheat grass this year and says despite highly variable yields, they “all make sense.”

One got all the groceries, one is organic and one couldn’t catch a break. And each shows the potential for a perennial crop. One crop, grown conventionally will likely yield 1,500 pounds per acre, with a target bushel weight of about 35 lb. Another, grown organically, will produce 200 lb., facing drought and low interventions by the producer, and another will yield 800 lb., with limited producer support.

All three crops, growing in Manitoba this year, are part of researcher Cattani’s IWG breeding project at the University of Manitoba.

He hopes that his variety of the crop will be ready for consideration for registration in the next three or four years.

The potential of the perennial crop to provide three or four harvests of seed with limited need for pesticides and give producers a rotational choice, along with premiums for the unique grain, could make it a desirable crop for prairie farmers.

IMG can produce large amounts of root matter, digging deep into the soil’s profile for water and nutrients, often scavenging what otherwise might have been lost. Its ability to get started early in the season also allows it to flourish in otherwise dry conditions.

The germplasm Cattani is working with has good disease tolerance. As an obligate out-crosser, the crop can take advantage of whatever conditions the year provides. However, this does also peel off the highs and lows from yield potential in favour of reliable seed production.

“We still have a fair bit to learn about it in the field and how farmers can best make use of it, but it does provide a lot of potential for the Prairies. It might be another 10 years before it is commonly available, but that is the nature of crop development and breeding,” he said.

Breeding programs in Wisconsin and Colorado are also underway. The crop is potentially attractive to both conventional and organic producers.

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