Intermediate wheatgrass plot trials.

MN Impact: MN-Clearwater, a grain variety of intermediate wheatgrass, fuels farmer partnerships to improve MN’s rural well water supply

May 28, 2020

Issue

Currently the crops in Minnesota’s annual cropping systems only cover the soil for three months of the year, leaving the land bare and brown, and susceptible to nitrate-N leaching for the rest of the year. The leaching of nitrate-N from these systems has impaired a large number of rural municipal and private wells in several regions of Minnesota. 

What has been done

The University of Minnesota released MN-Clearwater, whose grain is approved for sale as Kernza, the first perennial grain released in the world. University of Minnesota researchers and Extension specialists, in collaboration with The Land Institute, are exploring the potential use of the crop to reduce nitrite-N leaching by 86 percent or more without asking farmers to idle any land to protect the rural well water supply. In fact, research shows that with intermediate wheatgrass (IWG), farmers get access to a more sustainable cash crop that requires fewer inputs and is proving to be an increasingly desirable grain option for the food and beverage industry.

Results

MN-Clearwater, the University’s first released IWG grain cultivar, shows an average 38 percent yield improvement over other available IWG materials and has decreased lodging which increases harvest ability. But more importantly, it is inspiring food companies, researchers and State legislators to think more creatively about how they can work with farmers to provide options that fit seamlessly into their existing cropping systems, while also helping to protect our soil and groundwater.

In 2020, ‘MN-Clearwater’ is available to a limited number of qualified growers with a particular effort to plant the seed on farms near vulnerable wellheads—to date over 200 farmers have expressed interest in growing the crop. This initial rollout is a key step in The Forever Green Initiative’s overarching goal to revolutionize Minnesota agriculture by developing new crops that provide new economic opportunities to Minnesota farmers and rural communities while simultaneously reaping significant benefits for the environment.