In Minnesota, annual row crops like corn and soybeans are planted each spring and harvested each fall, so the ground lies fallow much of the year. Fallow fields are eroded and stripped of nutrients as wind and rain can sweep soil with phosphorus and nitrogen into nearby rivers, streams, and lakes, causing algal bloom. Also, nitrogen, a source of greenhouse gasses, can degrade ground water and therefore the drinking water of some communities.

Enter Kernza®, a perennial wheatgrass, a “cousin” of annual wheat that grows for years from one planting. Already used in baking and brewing and for animal feed or bedding, additional research will likely discover other uses.

In addition to its yield above ground, Kernza reduces chemical runoff and soil erosion because its roots penetrate the soil far deeper than those of annual crops. Deeper roots mean less chemicals end up in drinking water, the Mississippi River, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, where chemicals from fertilizers create a dead zone estimated at over 6,600 square miles. Kernza’s deep root systems also sequester carbon in the soil, better tolerate drought, and contribute to soil health.

Initial and ongoing research regarding the benefits of Kernza has been partially funded with lottery dollars through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. For example, the plant’s ability to mitigate nitrate leaching, its uses in food and non-food products, and the best processing procedures have been determined with the help of lottery funds. Kernza grain yields decrease in the plants’ third year, and current research, again funded by lottery dollars, is helping to determine the effects of aging Kernza plants on water quality, including drinking water. Funding also goes toward incentive payments to help encourage farmers to plant additional acres of Kernza.

When you play the lottery you help fund projects and research that make Minnesota an even better place to live. Learn more about how we are playing our part for Minnesota.

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