Come Rain or Shine

The Scoop on Kernza®, a Multi-functional Perennial Grain Crop

October 04, 2023 USDA Southwest Climate Hub & DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center Season 4 Episode 10
The Scoop on Kernza®, a Multi-functional Perennial Grain Crop
Come Rain or Shine
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Come Rain or Shine
The Scoop on Kernza®, a Multi-functional Perennial Grain Crop
Oct 04, 2023 Season 4 Episode 10
USDA Southwest Climate Hub & DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center

Kernza® is a small perennial grain with multiple environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration. We are joined by Nicole Tautges (Michael Fields Agricultural Institute) and Hana Fancher (The Land Institute) to learn more about the benefits and uses of Kernza®, as well as some of the challenges associated with growing this grain, and possible future directions. Photo credit: USDA

Relevant links:

Kernza® Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP)

Kernza® Grower Guide

Kernza® Community Bake

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Come Rain or Shine affiliate links:
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Sustainable Southwest Beef Project (NIFA Grant #2019-69012-29853): 

Show Notes Transcript

Kernza® is a small perennial grain with multiple environmental benefits, including carbon sequestration. We are joined by Nicole Tautges (Michael Fields Agricultural Institute) and Hana Fancher (The Land Institute) to learn more about the benefits and uses of Kernza®, as well as some of the challenges associated with growing this grain, and possible future directions. Photo credit: USDA

Relevant links:

Kernza® Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP)

Kernza® Grower Guide

Kernza® Community Bake

If you’re enjoying this podcast, please consider rating us and/or leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts, Podcast Addict, or Podchaser Thanks!

Follow us on Twitter @RainShinePod

Never miss an episode! Sign up to get an email alert whenever a new episode publishes!

Have a suggestion for a future episode? Please tell us!

Come Rain or Shine affiliate links:
DOI Southwest CASC: 
USDA Southwest Climate Hub: 
Sustainable Southwest Beef Project (NIFA Grant #2019-69012-29853): 

Emile Elias: Welcome to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub 

Sarah LeRoy: and the DOI Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, or Southwest CASC, operated by the USGS. I'm Sarah LeRoy, Research Coordinator for the Southwest CASC. 

Emile Elias: And I'm Emile Elias, Director of the Southwest Climate Hub. Here we highlight stories to share the most recent advances in climate science, weather, and climate adaptation and innovative practices to support resilient landscapes and communities.

Sarah LeRoy: We believe that sharing some of the most innovative, forward thinking, and creative climate science and adaptation will strengthen our collective ability to respond to even the most challenging impacts of climate change in one of the hottest and driest regions of the world.

The contents of this podcast are for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as endorsement for any of the products, technologies, or strategies discussed. 

Today, we are talking about grains, and specifically Kernza®. Kernza® is a small perennial grain, meaning that it grows back year after year.

We are talking about Kernza® because it has a number of environmental benefits, which we'll discuss later, and because it is a multifunctional crop, meaning it is grown both for human consumption and for animal feed. Today, we are joined by Nicole Tautges, who is an agroecologist at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, and Hana Fancher, who is the market stewardship specialist with the Land Institute, which is a non profit organization focused on perennial grain crops.

Welcome, Hana and Nicole. Hana maybe you could start us off by telling us just a little bit about Kernza®. What does it look like? What does it taste like? What is it used for? 

Hana Fancher: Sure. So Kernza® is actually intermediate wheatgrass and the grain is under the trademark name Kernza®. Intermediate wheatgrass is related to other cool season wheatgrass species.

Kernza® specifically grows anywhere from two to four feet tall and the seeds themselves are pretty long and slender. They're about half the seed size of a regular wheat kernel. And then as far as what it tastes like, I think it tastes really good. It's definitely got kind of a earthy and nutty flavor. I made some Kernza® shortbread recently, which was really good.

And then Kernza® has a lot of baking applications, obviously from bars and cookies to breads, flatbreads like naan and crackers have been really successful. And then outside of the baking world, we've seen CPG companies work with it in cereals and granolas and pancake mixes. And then also definitely picking up in the brewing and distilling world as well.

There's several Kernza® whiskeys and a lot of different Kernza® beers now around the country. So yeah, that's Kernza®. 

Sarah LeRoy: Excellent. Thank you. You're making me want to try some, some Kernza® shortbread. Nicole, a question for you. So your principal investigator on a large coordinated agriculture project, or CAP, which is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which is focused on Kernza®.

Could you tell us a little bit about that project and the work that is being done in it?

Nicole Tautges: Sure, this project is large because we're attacking the issues around Kernza®, or we're trying to unlock the key of how to make Kernza® grow, expand its acreage and its markets through a bunch of different disciplines.

So there are actually five or six objective teams within the project. There's breeding teams, there is a agronomy and research team, there's an environmental quality team, there's also education and extension, and commercialization and marketing folks. So those are all the different areas and disciplines.

It's a very trans disciplinary project that we are coordinating and integrating to the best that we can. That's the purpose and the the structure of these projects, right? They're CAP projects. And it's meant to be interdisciplinary because in that way we can move a lot of these different underpinnings of a new crop forward all at the same time.

But in terms of my role, I was brought onto the project to host an agronomic research site. So we are evaluating different fertilizer management strategies to produce Kernza® with the highest grain and biomass yields, so we're trying to nail down through replicating the same trial at six different sites within the upper, middle, Midwest, and on the Great Plains.

So we have sites in Nebraska and Kansas as well as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio. We're doing the same work at all of those to try to nail down fertilizer recommendations for growers. That's what I thought I would be doing for the project, but what I found myself working on a lot more is some of the marketing and commercialization work in terms of being able to bring a product to market, not just one person, but enabling a lot of growers to be able to do that after you have your grain harvested it in your bin.

But then that's only half of it. There's a lot of other things that need to happen before it can be put on a table and actually consumed by an eater. And to where the farmer can make some money. So I do both of those things, but I found myself actually surprisingly more passionate about the marketing and the post harvest process side.

Sarah LeRoy: Excellent. Thank you. Just a little follow up question on that related to the research. I was wondering if you could share with us the environmental benefits of growing Kernza® versus other grains. Are there, you know, any challenges or drawbacks as well? 

Nicole Tautges: Yeah, because Kernza® is a perennial, it keeps roots in the ground year round, it also produces roots to a larger extent, it produces more root biomass than annual crops do, so by virtue of those Two aspects, it does a few things for us.

It prevents soil erosion to a greater degree than annual grains do. It also enhances soil quality by putting carbon into the soil and feeding microbes. So it's increasing biodiversity below ground and it's also improving soil tilth through the input of organic matter through the roots, which is a particularly important pathway through introducing carbon and sort of a greater diversity of microbial food and other sorts of food for meso and even macro fauna into the soil.

And that's a lot of science y word gobbledygook for it's growing. And it's putting good stuff into the soil to benefit biodiversity and also soil structure. So soil with more air and more pores is tilthier, it's more crumbly. It's easier to work with, it's easier for plant roots to grow through. So Kernza® is doing all that for the soil that benefits both the farmer and the environment. It also is creating channels through its root growth and its extensive root network that help infiltrate water. 

So we're seeing less runoff from Kernza® systems and hard rain events. We're getting more of the infiltration. We're capturing more of the rain into our ground which again benefits the soil. It's benefiting groundwater. One of the most important things that Kernza® does that's been shown in the research is that it mitigates nitrate leaching.

In other words that's like nitrogen pollution or losses from agricultural lands, which can be pretty extensive with annual crops and that leads to, in many areas of the Midwest, we have too high of nitrate levels in wells, so they're testing over the a safe water drinking limit of 10 ppm in a lot of private and even municipal and public wells in the upper midwest.

A lot of that's from agricultural nitrogen fertilizer being applied to corn and soy systems and even small grain systems. But not only Kernza® it does require nitrogen fertilization, but it's really not leaky. It captures a lot of that nitrogen and it really doesn't let a lot of nitrogen down the soil profile and into the groundwater.

So research has shown, and it's been a few studies, it's been replicated a couple times, that Kernza® reduces nitrate leaching down to the bottom of the soil profile, so past one meter deep. Researchers observed over 90 percent lower nitrate leaching levels than were observed under corn and soybean. And even in some cases, there's 95 percent lower soil nitrogen levels under Kernza® than there were under corn and soybean, and it also can fix a lot of carbon.

So it grows a lot. That means that it's converting atmospheric carbon into plant matter, which, like I said, is then being put into the roots and the soil as organic matter, and then that's resulting in some carbon storage. So we're, it's reallocating atmospheric carbon, which is obviously a huge component and worry with climate change.

It's taking some of the other atmosphere and storing it below ground in a process that we call carbon sequestration. But that's tremendously important. We're seeing, the research is really early, so these are really preliminary numbers that I'm sharing, and there needs to be a lot more work to pin down exactly what the carbon sequestration rates are, but we're seeing levels of about 0.3 - 0.5 tons of carbon per acre per year under Kernza®. And that's relative to annual systems, which are typically not sequestering a lot. In some really intensive systems, they're losing carbon. Usually they're just kind of net zero. So they're not helping with atmospheric carbon drawdown. But in other perennial systems, so like in forests and woodlands just for reference, we see carbon sequestration rates of about four tons per acre.

So while it's not as good, I should say, as like forest or woodland fruit agricultural system, it's, it's some of the highest carbon sequestration rates that we can achieve to my knowledge so far. 

Sarah LeRoy: Excellent. Thank you, Nicole. That's a lot of great benefits from growing Kernza®, and so I'm wondering, are there any challenges or drawbacks to growing Kernza®?

Nicole Tautges: The number one drawback is that there's not a large developed market for Kernza®. That's the number one problem. After you get Kernza® established, that's another difficult point, but after you get Kernza® established, it's really pretty easy to grow. I was joking this year that it's a really good pregnancy crop and that I would recommend it for that.

I had a baby in the spring and we, the only thing we did with my Kernza® of field was we went out and we spread manure early in the spring before I had my baby so we got that done. We fertilized it. It usually should get fertilized annually, once a year. And then the next time that I went to that field, I came with a combine and I harvested.

So, in two passes across the field, I had a marketable crop, which was wonderful. The problem is that there's not a market like other crops. Most farmers in most regions, out west, farmers tend to grow more on contract with companies. But in corn and soybean land, like where I am located most farmers will just grow a crop and then you can drive up to an elevator.

You don't need a pre contract necessarily. You can drop your crop and then a check will come in the mail for a week. And farmers, they usually... They're not really used to marketing their grains that way, as in they're not thinking about having to do anything to sell their crops. This isn't true for everybody necessarily, but that's sort of a general underpinning assumption of grain production around here.

And it's the same in sort of the wheat regions of the U. S. So like growers in Kansas growing conventional wheat can expect the same thing, and then other regions of the country. There... There is no such structure or entity for Kernza® where you can drive up with a load of grain, unload it, and get a check. It does not exist.

And there aren't even hardly any contracts that can be gotten to grow Kernza®, just because there aren't that many companies using large volumes at this point. And so we have seen a lot of success from certain growers forming relationships with certain small and mid sized food businesses to sell their Kernza® directly to the chef or that food business owner and operator and that a lot of those relationships have seemed to go really well, but a lot of times those are small ish volumes and that is a system that not every grower wants to find or arrange or is able to find a buyer that way.

So kind of the replicability of that marketing structure is limited at this point. That is the number one issue. If not for that, I think we would have 20 30, 000 acres of Kernza® already just in the Midwest. Agronomically, it's kind of hard to get established. I think we're going to solve that pretty soon. It's just a little bit of working with growers, both grower to grower, peer to peer learning and then, you know, maybe with some of these new resources out like the grower guide that gives some tips for establishment and that issue is very solvable.

What's more of a challenge is the marketing aspect and unless we can grow demand for Kernza® really quickly and be able to distribute larger volumes, our growth is going to be slow for a while, but I'm optimistic. I think that's going to get solved. We just need a lot of different people with different approaches working on that.

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thank you, Nicole, for outlining the benefits and some of the challenges of working with Kernza®. So Hana, there's been some interest in Kernza® as a drought tolerant crop. So I'm wondering how much research has been done in that area, and how does Kernza® compare to the water requirements of more conventional grain crops?

Hana Fancher: Yeah, so I'd say the research in that area is really just getting started and that we don't really know yet and it's a complicated question because there's a lot of factors that could impact the drought tolerance of Kernza®. We do have one research project in partnership with CSU or Colorado State that's focused on drought-tolerant crops in the Colorado River Basin.

So that's an exciting project, and I think there's plots kind of in several different research locations. I think Fruta and Yellow Jacket are the two research stations I for sure know of. Oh, and Akron, Colorado, all kind of arid or semi arid locations, for sure. Most of which, maybe not the Akron, but the other two I think are under irrigation.

But yeah, in terms of its drought tolerance, I think I think we just don't totally know yet. It's not, you know, a miracle grass, it's still needs water but like Nicole said, it, it does have that pretty amazing root system. And so I think we're still doing research to figure out what those roots are doing down there and just how efficient they are.

I guess another thing that comes to mind thinking about drought tolerance with Kernza® is just some conversations with researchers and growers. We have some fields in Kansas and Kansas has been hit pretty hard this year. Well, and last year, but, this year with drought. And I think the fields there, dry land fields there have had 20 inches of rain and the Kernza® seems to be struggling but they also have had really intense heat and pretty warm nights.

And then, kind of on the other hand, we have some growers in Utah that have only received 15 inches of precip and they've had really good yields. And so, like, it's clearly not all about precipitation. I think If there's anything we can say, at least observationally at this point, is that it does prefer cool nights and that as far as stress goes, I think Kernza® would do better with cool nights and consistent moisture stress.

Rather than warm nights and like huge swings in precipitation if it's not done well and a lot of crops wouldn't do well under that. So, yeah, overall research and drought tolerances is just getting going, but we're certainly hopeful and excited to see what happens. 

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks. And so you mentioned some, some work in Kansas, some work in Utah, and it sounds like that's mostly in the research context, but I'm wondering, do you know any, are you aware of any producers in arid or semi arid environment that are trying Kernza®?

Hana Fancher: There's a lot of producers in Kansas outside of the research context, probably about a third of the overall Kernza® grain is in Kansas and Nebraska. And then... We also have growers on the eastern plains of Colorado. Up here where I am, I'm in Laramie, Wyoming, and we have several growers in kind of the southeast corner of Wyoming, which I think you would consider as semi arid.

And then as far as really arid landscapes. There is the Colorado Research Station, and I think their average precip is nine, nine or ten inches. But yeah, that's different because they, they also have irrigation. As far as kind of semi arid places without irrigation, there, there is one grower in southeast Wyoming that I can think of.

He actually has multiple fields, some under pivot and some not, and he's had successful grain crops there. Yeah, I think, I think it's, it's slowly moving west out of, out of the Midwest region and Kansas and just kind of observing people's experiences, but there's definitely been successes out here. 

Nicole Tautges: I think there are growers in the Palouse region, too, and that is an area of eastern Washington and northern Idaho and even northeastern Oregon.

Gosh, that's hard to figure out all those directions. But the Palouse region, and that is a really interesting area because it's a... region of very high historical production of dryland wheat. There's virtually no irrigation infrastructure and yet they've traditionally gotten really high yields of small grain.

So, that's an intriguing area possibly for Kernza® production. And I would add in terms of the drought and hardy aspect of that question that we had a very, very droughty year. I think it was within the top five driest years on the historical record here in Wisconsin. And I got super good Kernza® yields on my production field of about 20 acres.

And that was in a third year stand, which is pretty mature and when you might not see your highest yield potential. So it was enormously successful in what was a really tough year for corn and soy and other crops. So that was really nice to see. 

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks, Nicole. So this is a question for both of you, but Hana, we'll go ahead and start with you.

Nicole mentioned this earlier, but I want to follow on. So a big obstacle still to overcome for Kernza® is that there really isn't a market for it. So it's not profitable, generally, to grow commercially. It's not really even possible because the systems aren't set up for that. So given that, does it have practical applications right now that may help grow into more profitable markets?

Hana Fancher: Yeah, I don't know that I totally agree with the statement that there isn't a market for it and that it isn't profitable. I think it depends on a couple different factors. Yeah, certainly as far as profitability goes for farmers. It depends on what they do with it and what their kind of goals are with it.

One thing we haven't talked about as much is that Kernza® also produces really high quality forage, hay, and straw, which are also, I think, like very practical options for growers especially if they don't want to pursue a grain crop. The grain market is definitely in its infancy and, and it is volatile, but there's definitely growers figuring out, growers like Nicole that have really taken it upon themselves to figure, figure it out and find buyers.

I think at the Land Institute, we've had a lot of businesses express interest and from a variety of industries and from a variety of scales. And we're just trying to keep eliminating some of those barriers to commercialization. But yeah, I think, I think there is a very small but growing market. The biggest or most important thing I think is for growers that are interested in kind of doing their own marketing, which I think may in the grand scheme of things be probably very few because it's also different than what they're used to.

But the growers that have done that, I think have Found some success, but yeah, I also don't want to over inflate the reality. Like it is, it is very tiny and it is frustrating and it is in its infancy, but I think it would be not an entirely true statement to say that it's not profitable a hundred percent.

I think it, it depends on the grower and the situation. Nicole Tautges: Yeah, that was really well stated by Hana and I agree. No, it can be tremendously profitable. I got some, just some numbers from my production because in addition to my involvement in the research project, and of course I have to keep these two things very separate on the financial books and everything, but our institute also has almost 20, just shy of 20 acres of production field.

And for a variety of reasons, we just ended up growing the Kernza®. We wanted to put a crop there that would help with erosion on one of our steeper slopes on land that we own. And then I ended up seeing a need for the grain, like there are food businesses that want to test with grain and it was kind of hard to obtain through some other channels.

So I thought, okay, well I could just take some of my grain and grind it in the flour and send it to them to kind of kickstart and help catalyze the testing and R& D process on the food business side. And then of course it helps our non profits bottom line to sell back some of the crop that, to grow some crop on our land.

And then also it just helps to have grain available in my region as I'm trying to grow a local market. The thing is, any small grain, any crop other than corn and soybean, really isn't that profitable if you're not direct marketing it. If you're just not doing a lot of marketing work and pulling up to the elevator and getting the Chicago Board of Trade like commodity global price for it. Pretty much nothing else is profitable for farmers. So we've created this economic structure that I feel very strongly about pushing back against in agriculture where we're just locked into this really undiversified agricultural landscape and rotation structure for growers in the Midwest and really in most parts of the country and it's really sad.

And I think that we need to really, I see Kernza® as our opportunity to kind of reset this commodity marketing economic structure that we have gotten ourselves into. We, I want current acreages to grow. I want large volumes to be purchased. I recognize that the commodity structure where we have large buyers and large distributors and large green elevators is one way to do that and yet my heart is really interested and my head to some extent but mostly my heart is really interested into Rebuilding these local and regional food systems so that we have a food web and a supply web rather than a supply chain.

And I think a lot of eaters even came to realize the problems with our current food supply chain when flour was not available on store shelves during the COVID crisis and how jarring is it that there's not even flour that we can obtain. But, lo and behold, a lot of people found growers who were growing wheat and grinding flour close to them in their local communities and that started these relationships where people are buying flour from somebody near them rather than like flour that was produced and ground a thousand miles away and then transported by rail.

And so I think I'm really interested in using Kernza® being new as an opportunity to rebuild that sort of food structure and I guess that's what I work on in my neck of the woods with my local relationships and my production and I think we have other people in southern Wisconsin who are interested in building that sort of a thing. 

And there are some opportunities to sell grain through a broker by sending it to Minnesota. So you'd have to ship it to Minnesota and actually even South Dakota in some cases. And that's sort of through the broker relationship. And you can sell your grain that way without the grower having to do marketing leg work. And it's been interesting that I've found that people really aren't interested in doing that.

They want to work with people in their local community, and so I'm seeing this appetite for this sort of new marketing structure. And then it's just the grand challenge with Kernza® and with so many other crops as we're trying to build this, is how do we create enough of these linkages that adds up to cumulatively account for large acreages and large volumes of grain and larger areas of land being.

You know, quote unquote, protected. I think that's the grand challenge, and, you know, we have to be patient in that it can take time to build those things, but also there are some of us who talk about the urgency and we can't afford to be patient because of our climate crisis, and so those are all of the kind of paradigms and tensions.

That we find ourselves working with as we are building cards and having discussions with a wide variety of stakeholders. 

Sarah LeRoy: Thank you, Nicole, and thank you both, especially for expanding on some of the nuances of profitability and direct marketing as compared, you know, with the current established structure.

And so, Nicole, I wanted to touch on something you talked about. We talked about Kernza® being a perennial grain and that you don't need to replant it every year. And so, I'm wondering how many years of productive growth can a grower expect to get from a Kernza® planting before it has to be replanted?

And I guess, Hana, if you want to answer this one, go for it. 

Hana Fancher: Yeah, so the thing we have seen is that yield over time will decrease. But like Nicole said earlier, I think she said she had a stand that's three years old and she still got a decent grain crop after it. I think we do recommend that people think about replanting after three to five years.

But I know we have some growers that were really early adopters and I think they have, this is outside of research, that have stands that are 10, 11, 12 years old. I doubt they're getting a grain crop anymore. They're probably using it as forage or hay, but yeah, so if you, if you do want to pursue grain, then yeah, within three to five years, it can continue on beyond that.

Nicole, do you have anything to add to that one? 

Nicole Tautges: Yeah, I would just add that there are some agronomic strategies that we can employ, possibly to reinvigorate old stands and a lot more research is needed in this area but a promising result was found in Cornell. They had a year four stand that they did some fall tillage applications in and so all they had observed declined or decreased grain yields in year four relative to years one and two.

So yields go down by like 50 to 60 percent from year one to year four on average. We've seen in different sites and different research studies. So in fall they did some chisel plowing in old Kernza® fields and they found that in year five and those strips that had received the chisel plowing. They restored grain yields to year two levels, so that seemed to restore.

And there's a, there are a few different reasons we think of why Kernza® grain yields decline. Part of it's just that Kernza® tillers a lot, so... There's just too high of a density of tillers all competing for the same light and the same resources and the stand just needs to be thinned. Kind of the same reason why a golf course goes out with the aerator and punches all those little cores out.

We kind of need an aerator actually for our Kernza® stands, I think I'd like to try that someday. But I don't have one. But we need to find the right tillage tool that's doing that. So we need to thin the stand, but we don't want to thin the stand too much so that we start to invade those thin strips. So that's kind of the challenge.

Another challenge is that Kernza® will deplete a lot of nutrients. So not just nitrogen, but phosphorus, potassium, maybe calcium, maybe some of our micronutrients as well. Again, more research is needed. So maybe we don't need to be applying the same fertilizer rate every year. Maybe there's a point where we need to do like a really big restorative dump of nutrients on.

Again, I don't know. These are just kind of hypotheses that need to be explored and researched a little more. Yeah, those are some of the theories. And then there's also like a lot of physiology that we don't understand about the plant and where fundamental plant physiology research is needed to understand kind of what the signals are in the plant as the plant ages and how that works.

So more research is needed and I think that we can overcome that with time. Plus there's the breeding component where maybe they can breed plants that just don't age as much. Their stands don't age as much in terms of grain production. I'm not sure, but I think given some time we're going to improve that to where we can have a stand that is lasting longer than four or five years in an economically productive way.

Sarah LeRoy: Thank you, Nicole, and I appreciate that response. Sounds like there's some really promising potential there for, for making it last even longer. I'm wondering, Nicole, so the Kernza® CAP project has developed a Kernza® Growers Guide, which you co authored. Could you, so are there any highlights from that guide that you'd like to share with our listeners?

Nicole Tautges: Sure, I think, yeah, thanks for bringing up the guide. I spent a year working on it and it ended up being kind of a passion project for me. It was really fun. I think the most important sections of it are The Establishment section, I think the two longest chapters are the Establishment chapter and the Harvest chapter.

So, as I said, Establishment has proven pretty challenging for some growers. We've seen on the whole 25 30 percent of stands will fail in any given year, which is a real bummer for the grower. And there are a variety of reasons that that happens that I address in the guide, but basically like don't plant it too deep, needs to be planted less than a half inch deep in terms of the seed and then we need to get our seeding rate right for conditions and then we need to get the grain flowing through drills properly because it doesn't flow through grain drills in the same way that most growers are accustomed to working with weed or even oats or other things like that. So check that out in the guide and then also getting harvest settings right on a combine when you're harvesting it is really important. You don't need a special combine to harvest Kernza®, you can use the same one that one would use for small grain production, but the settings and the setup is a little bit different than most growers are used to.

And we spent a lot of time and thought trying to get that in the grower guide in a way that was really practical and ready to apply and take to the machine shop. For growers when they were reading that part of the grower guide. So I think those are the two most important things that I would want a grower to study.

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks, Nicole. We'll have to check out the guide. Is there anything we didn't ask you that you wish we had?

Hana Fancher: I run into people both inside of the kind of perennial grain world and outside of it, that I think there's still a sentiment that Kernza® is just really scarce. And while the acreage is tiny in comparison to some of our commodity crops, they'll have over 4, 000 acres on the landscape and that's still quite a bit of Kernza® and I would say that the supply is certainly there. And I don't just mean consumers, I mean interested companies and entrepreneurs and CPGs. We have it and are definitely happy to work with people as they want to explore products and using it. So it's there. Just reach out. 

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thank you. Thanks, Hana. And you might be happy to know that as I was doing research before we talked with you, I bought myself some Kernza® of flour. So. 

Hana Fancher: Hey, nice. 

Emile Elias: Yeah, I'm excited to work with that. That'll be fun. So, Nicole, over to you. Is there anything we didn't ask you that you wish we had? 

Nicole Tautges: Yeah, I've gotten in other interviews, I've gotten questions about what can we do to help? And it's really, growing demand is the most important thing at this point.

The resources for end users are only growing right now. If you do find yourself going online and ordering some Kernza® flour, also google some recipes. It bakes differently than wheat.

It's not a great comparison to compare Kernza® to wheat, actually, especially when you're working with it in the kitchen. On our website,, we have a community bake report that shares a bunch of different applications of Kernza®, including people who made pizza crusts with it. It shares what... their experience was in eating that Kernza® pizza. We also have like squash cake, quick breads, cookies, it's all online. You know, what we always say is like, it's really important to talk about all these environmental benefits, but You know, it can sequester all the carbon in the world, but people won't come back to buy it again if it doesn't taste good.

And luckily for us, I think pernza tastes pretty darn good. I don't do this for the profitability at all. I'm doing this because I care really about climate change and also because it's great to see your crop regrowing after harvest in the fall, and it's really great to walk out in the spring and see growing Kernza® and clean snow next to my Kernza® field, which shows that there's not soil erosion happening.

And, and so that's, that's why I like doing this. 

Emile Elias: Nicole, I feel like you started into this already. We like to ask the experts we get to talk with about what gives them hope. And I feel like you started, started telling us a bit, Nicole, about what gives you hope. So Hana, what gives you hope for the future?

Hana Fancher: Well, I think Nicole's last answer was perfect because what I wanted to say was that it's mostly for me about the producers we work with and their optimism and curiosity and creativity and obviously with Nicole it's pretty contagious like I think she really embodies that, but I think a lot of our producers are that way.

And it's amazing to me that we've never recruited a single grower. Everyone has reached out to us with a really genuine interest and a desire to try something new. And yeah, to me, that's just amazing. And I think it says a lot about the crop and the, and the growers. So that's where, that's where most of the hope for me comes from.

And I feel lucky that I get to work in this space with those people. 

Emile Elias: Excellent. Thanks, Hana. Nicole anything you'd like to add around what gives you hope for the future? 

Nicole Tautges: Yeah, what gives me hope is how many people, even in rural, really rural areas of the country, how many people are really interested in changing things and it's changing things for their local community and that's, you know, climate change is this really big thorny problem to worry about.

There's that concern, but then it's also the concern of like what happens when the flour shipments stop from outside my community. We need to take care of ourselves. I want to make sure that I am putting food on. tables of people around me because I'm a landowner and I'm a farmer and I have the ability to keep people fed around here.

And that's, that's a really important part of food security for rural America, but also improving like the freshness and the nutritional quality of our food for not getting it shipped miles away. And there are wonderfully creative people, like of all ages, this isn't just young people. There are really old guys who are farming conventionally for 30 years who are...

Who are making a change and who are using a lot of their experience and their capital to really change things and make a difference for younger growers, for people who need jobs in these rural areas as other, you know, factory jobs have left. So they're incredible stories, even in quote unquote flyover country.

And... That really inspires me. There are just so many creative people who are using science and local wisdom to change things. I think we're just going to keep going on down this road, and I'm just grateful I get to be a part of it.

Emile Elias: Nicole, Hana, thank you so much for the work you do and for talking with us today. 

Nicole Tautges: Thank you so much for having us. 

Hana Fancher: Yeah, thank you.

Emile Elias: Thanks for listening to Come Rain or Shine, podcast of the USDA Southwest Climate Hub 

and the USGS Southwest CASC. If you liked this podcast, don't forget to rate or review it and subscribe for more great episodes. A special thanks to our production crew, Skye Aney and Reanna Burnett. If you want more information, have any questions for the speakers, or would like to offer feedback, please reach out to us via our website.