Perennial grain symposium to be held: advances and challenges

October 20, 2020 – Perennial crops need not be planted every year, have roots that grow deeper in the soil and other advantages over annual crops. However, progress has been comparatively slow in terms of unlocking the evolutionary and eco-physiological bottlenecks that limit the yield potential and therefore broader adoption of such crops. The Unlocking the Biological Potential of Perennial Grain Crops for Sustainable Agriculture: Advances and Challenges” symposium at the Translating Visionary Science to Practice ASA, CSSA, SSSA International Annual Meeting will address these topics.

The meeting is being held virtually, Nov. 9-13, 2020 and is sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. Media are invited; preregistration is required.

The presentations are:

  1. “Navigating Trade-Offs between Increasing Yield and Perenniality,” will be presented by Len Wade, University of Queensland, Australia. The presentation examines data on dry matter production and allocation by perennial and annual counterparts in relation to their resource use. Whether the perennial is more or less efficient in resource conversion or allocation is only part of the question, if the perennial were able to access additional resources not available to the annual. To address these complex questions properly requires long-term data, so systems performance and resource balance can be considered over crop cycles, and the merits and disadvantages of each system properly examined. Wade considers currently-available evidence to address these questions, and what is needed to show the way forward.
  2. “Can Perennial Grain Crops Produce Abundant Yield and Also Persist in Temperate Environments,” will be presented by Lee De Haan, Land Institute. Intermediate wheatgrass was initially introduced to the United States for use as a forage grass, but it is now under development as a perennial grain crop. Breeding efforts for increased grain yield have been underway for about three decades, more than tripling grain yield relative to forage varieties. Although grain yields remain far below those of annual crops such as wheat, yields have reached the point where the grain can enter high-value specialty markets, being sold under the trade name Kernza. He will examine patterns that been revealed in breeding programs and discuss potential for physiological approaches to attaining sustained grain yield in perennials. Several lines of evidence suggest that future perennial grain crops will be capable of abundant yield without sacrificing persistence.
  3. “Nature’s Wisdom? Implications of Evolutionary Tradeoffs for Perennial Grains,” will be presented by R. Ford Denison, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Tradeoffs between longevity and reproduction have been observed across the tree of life. Underlying mechanisms include constraints imposed by allocation of scarce resources among competing processes key to longevity versus reproduction. Natural selection only favors perenniality when a perennial plant has much greater survival or much greater reproduction than an otherwise-identical annual. However, respect for nature’s wisdom suggests that the annual life-history of wheat’s wild ancestors was not an error. Small increases in allocation to seeds may increase a perennial’s risk of dying only slightly, allowing rapid early progress through plant breeding, but to approach the seed yield of our best annual crops is an implausible goal. Existing perennials, from alfalfa to avocados, may balance food security with erosion-control and other sustainability benefits better than perennial versions of grain crops like wheat.

Presentations may be watched asynchronously, and there will be a scheduled Q&A time to speak with presenters during the meeting. Presentations will be available for online viewing for 90 days after the meeting for all registrants. For more information about the Translating Visionary Science to Practice 2020 meetingvisit

Media are invited to attend the conference. Pre-registration by Nov. 2, 2020 is required. Visit for registration information.

To speak with one of the scientists, contact Susan V. Fisk, 608-273-8091, to arrange an interview.