The performance of early-generation perennial winter cereals at 21 sites across four continents


Hayes, R.C., Wang, S., Newell, M.T., Turner, K., Larsen, J., Gazza, L., Anderson, J.A., Bell, L.W., Cattani, D.J., Frels, K., Galassi, E., Morgounov, A.I., Revell, C.K., Thapa, D.B., Sacks, E.J., Sameri, M., Wade, L.J., Westerbergh, A., Shamanin, V., Amanov, A., Li, G.D. (2018). The performance of early-generation perennial winter cereals at 21 sites across four continents. Sustainability, [online] 10(4),

Plain language summary

Perennial wheat, which has the ability to regrow each year, holds significant promise for agriculture throughout the world. A group of international researchers based in four continents carried out a research project where perennial wheat, which is developed by crossing wheat with wheatgrass (perennial species commonly grown for forage), was evaluated for productivity, adaptation and ability to regrow. Rarely did the perennial wheat survive longer than two years. Productivity was highest in the first year and then decreased significantly after that. Factors influencing productivity in the second and third year was predominantly fertilizer inputs. Persistence was largely influenced by latitude of the location growing the trial with higher latitude locations having greater persistence. For researchers looking to develop perennial wheat for Canada, durum wheat and intermediate wheatgrass likely would be the best combination of parents to use, based on the findings from this study.


A network of 21 experiments was established across nine countries on four continents and spanning both hemispheres, to evaluate the relative performance of early generation perennial cereal material derived from wheat, rye, and barley and to inform future breeding strategies. The experimental lines were grown in replicated single rows, and first year production and phenology characteristics as well as yield and persistence for up to three years were monitored. The study showed that the existing experimental material is all relatively short-lived (≤3 years), with environments that are milder in summer and winter generally conferring greater longevity. No pedigree was superior across this diverse network of sites although better performing lines at the higher latitude sites were generally derived from Thinopyrum intermedium. By contrast, at lower latitudes the superior lines were generally derived from Th. ponticum and Th. elongatum parentage. The study observed a poor relationship between year 1 performance and productivity in later years, highlighting the need for perennial cereal material with greater longevity to underpin future experimental evaluation, and the importance for breeding programs to emphasize post-year 1 performance in their selections. Hybrid lines derived from the tetraploid durum wheat generally showed greater longevity than derivatives of hexaploid wheat, highlighting potential for greater use of Triticum turgidum in perennial wheat breeding. We advocate a model in future breeding initiatives that develops perennial cereal genotypes for specific target environments rather than a generic product for one global market. These products may include a diversity of cultivars derived from locally adapted annual and perennial parents. In this scenario the breeding program may have access to only a limited range of adapted perennial grass parents. In other situations, such as at very high latitude environments, perennial crops derived from barley or rye may have a better chance of success than those derived from wheat. In either case, development and selection of the perennial parent for adaptation to local environments would seem fundamental to success.

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