Michael Kantar (Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences) is lead author of a recent article in the Annual Review of Plant Biology that discusses the ecological benefits of perennial crops. It explains that although today’s farming practices produce high yields, they can also contribute to ecosystem problems such as soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, and water pollution. One way to offset some of these problems is by growing more perennial and fewer annual crops. Since perennials have a longer growing season and deeper root systems, they require less fertilizer, help prevent runoff, can be more drought tolerant than annuals, and need less tillage. “Their production is expected to reduce tillage, which could positively affect biodiversity,” the authors write.
Kantar was subsequently interviewed for a Q&A about efforts to domesticate wild perennial grain and oilseed crops in “Plant, reap, repeat—and now rethink” in Knowable Magazine. “I am working on perennial sunflowers,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of DNA-sequencing projects to look for natural genes that will help us. We know in sunflower it’s important to control flowering time; you have to be able to fit it into the growing session of a region. And the oil content and quality in the seeds. So now we’re screening plants with those features to use as parents for future generations.”
The goal, he said, is to have the harvesting, planting and processing tech be very similar or the same as for annuals. “The systems need to be compatible so the farmer’s investment in new equipment is not a deal-breaker.”