What is Kernza?

The Allamakee SWCD was recently awarded a 3-year grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) to implement and promote adding a perennial grain, known as Kernza, into a crop rotation. One of the goals of this endeavor is to encourage diversified crop rotations and the associated benefits of improved soil health and reduced input costs.

Kernza is an intermediate wheatgrass and the only perennial grain crop currently marketed in the United States. It was selected because it has many desirable traits and was already being used in the United States as pasture and rangeland grass.  Intermediate wheatgrass is related to other wheatgrass species like crested wheatgrass that are commonly used as forage/rangeland grasses and is a distant relative of wheat and other annual grains.

The Allamakee SWCD has a 1.5-acre test plot just north of the Waukon Field Office. The land was donated for use by the Waukon Economic Development Corporation. We are hoping that the experience as well as data collected will help producers better understand how to plant and manage Kernza and what potential benefits it may provide for their operations.

The Allamakee SWCD planted a rye cover crop in the fall of 2022 after a soybean crop to provide cover on the area until the Kernza would be able to be seeded the following fall.  The rye was donated from Innovative Ag Services (IAS) and seeded by Jim Ranum with a no-till drill. The rye was baled off at the end of May and had enough regrowth by July it was mowed down again to help keep a cover until the Kernza would be seeded.  The plot was then sprayed with glyphosate and 2-4D on August 30 by the Waukon Feed Ranch with their drone to help control weeds.


Kernza’s optimum seeding dates for this region is August 1st -September 30th. The Kernza needs to be seeded early enough for it to have 3 leaflets before a hard frost.   The Kernza plot was seeded on September 8th by Jim Ranum and his No-till drill.  We did experiment with the row spacing by seeding most of the plot at the recommended 15” rows and a small area with 7.5” rows at 0.5” deep.  We will be having field days over the next few years to evaluate how the seeding is doing and determine if we will harvest for grain or for forage. This will be a learning experience and we will report what goes well as well as hurdles to overcome in managing Kernza.