Is it logical for versions of corn, wheat, rice and other current annual crops to be developed as perennial crops?

"Getting to the yields of today's corn in central Iowa with a perennial corn will not happen quickly, but I do think it is possible," said Ed Buckler, an Agriculture Department scientist at Cornell University in New York, who was quoted by Philip Brasher in a Des Moines Register newspaper article. 

"With prior technology, it would have taken 100-plus years. Now, I think we can do it in 20 years with a concerted effort," he also said.

"We're interested in the development of perennial grains - big seeds, high yields," Deputy Agriculture SecretaryKathleen Merrigan was quoted as saying. "These plants with deep roots to hold the soil in place and pick up water and nutrients year-round could reduce the demand for water over the more typical annual grain that produce a big harvest but die each year."

She said the USDA is funding some initial research into the genetic basis of perennialism and developing the genetics for breeding perennial crops. Brasher noted it is a pittance of what major seed companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer are investing in seed research, but these companies aren’t really interested in such research because they make their money selling new seed each growing season.

The USDA has asked Congress for $1 million in fiscal 2012 for perennial grain or sunflower research at its own labs, a slight increase over this year's funding. In 2009-10, the department provided about $1.5 million in grants for perennial grains research at the Land Institute and a few universities, including Iowa State University.

A serious effort to breed perennial corn crops would require spending $1 million to $2 million for five years to identify the genes necessary for perennialism, according to one conservative estimate. After that, $10 million to $20 million a year and dozens of scientists would be needed to breed a perennial corn that could eventually be commercialized.

The full Des Moines Register article can be read by clicking here.