Advancing Crop Diversity with Civic Scientists
- Sustainable Water Management
Next-generation perennial grains are domesticated as nutrient-dense crops that can diversify the food supply, increase soil health and reduce irrigated water use. These grains also can meet the growing demand for more nutritious, less resource-intensive crops. However, researchers do not have enough time and resources to conduct the conventional field research essential to develop reliable future seed supplies and optimize management practices across a range of growing conditions throughout the U.S. Further, a disconnect between academia and end users has limited producers’ willingness to adopt advanced agricultural practices including next-generation perennial grains.
To confront these challenges, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) is awarding a $966,273 Seeding Solutions grant to The Land Institute to implement a civic science program. The investigators are working with volunteers, farmers and land-grant extension programs to strategically collect data on cultivating next-generation perennial grains at small scales and test civic science as a method for advancing next-generation crop domestication. The Land Institute and its Perennial Agriculture Project provided matching funds for a total investment of $1,939,773.
There is an urgent need to understand how variation in climate and water availability affect crop production and other agroecosystem services. The Land Institute’s stakeholder-engaged research will exponentially increase our capacity to explore these linkages while providing true leadership to our commitment to adaptive management and learning while doing.Kathleen Boomer, Ph.D.
Scientific Program Director
Sustainable Water Management
Researchers at The Land Institute, led by Dr. David Van Tassel and Dr. Aubrey Streit Krug, hypothesize that collecting data on next-generation crop performance from diverse individuals with unique perspectives working in different geographic settings can build knowledge that improves future management more efficiently than traditional agronomic studies. To facilitate data collection and analysis, the researchers are expanding a digital platform that supports and connects next-generation perennial grains volunteer growers from various civic entities, including neighborhoods, government, private sector companies, community garden clubs, schools and universities across the U.S.
Developed in collaboration with CitSci.org, the project’s accessible digital platform allows civic scientists to enter standardized agroecological measurements via smartphone, participate in a learning community, provide feedback on the project and easily explore shared observations and visualizations through a “living atlas” of geospatial maps. By engaging diverse civic scientists across the U.S., the study also provides an opportunity to investigate how sociocultural factors may influence interest in researching, growing and eating next-generation crops.
“Diverse, perennial grain agricultural systems can grow through human cultures of learning,” said Dr. Aubrey Streit Krug, Director of the Perennial Cultures Lab at The Land Institute. “By supporting and testing a creative approach to crop domestication, this project provides an opportunity to democratize scientific inquiry and agricultural learning across geographies and communities.”
The team hopes their success inspires other civic science programs that can efficiently increase our collective knowledge of managing agricultural land while building sociocultural willingness to explore, adopt and support innovative crops and technologies.
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.
The Land Institute
The Land Institute co-leads the global movement for perennial, diverse, regenerative grain agriculture at a scale that matches the enormity of the intertwined climate, water, and food security crises. An independent 501c3 nonprofit researcher institute founded in 1976, the organization seeks to reconcile the human economy with nature’s economy, starting with food. Its transdisciplinary team of scientists and global partners are developing new perennial grain crops, like Kernza, and diverse cropping systems that function within nature’s limits and researching the social transformation required for a just, perennial human future.