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U of M crop researcher wins sustainability award


Doug Cattani, a crop researcher at the University of Manitoba, was announced as one of the recipients of the 2018 Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability Awards.

“Our government is pleased to recognize and celebrate the successes of Manitobans, and local organizations and businesses in our community that are taking action to reduce their environmental footprint,” Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said in a release.

Doug Cattani has engaged in developing major research advancements on intermediate wheatgrass, which is a sod-forming perennial grass.

Since 2010, Cattani has been a leader in a collaborative international project known as Kernza that involves scientists and specialists from state and provincial government agricultural agencies, the Land Institute based in Kansas and scientists from around the world. Its mission is to apply non-genetically modified organism (GMO) selection and inter-mating techniques to increase yield and disease resistance in perennial crops and to create perennial versions of annual crops.

Cattani’s perennial grain breeding research includes both cereal and broadleaf crops. In his perennial cereal work, he has experimented with perennial wheat and perennial cereal rye, but neither performed very well under Manitoba conditions. However, his intermediate wheatgrass (IWG) work could result in the release of Canada’s first commercial IWG grain variety within about six more years. The IWG grain, called Kernza, is starting to find a place in niche markets like craft beers and speciality breakfast cereal and pasta products.

Like other perennial crops, IWG has a long list of possible agro-ecosystem advantages compared to annual crops, such as reducing soil erosion and increasing soil organic matter.

According to a backgrounder on his work, the root depth will sequester more carbon than a traditional crop. It will also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions because perennial crops do not require annual seeding. The project will reduce fertilizer application and run-off, reducing the contamination of the freshwater and marine ecosystems. Producing a dense crop canopy minimizes the need for tillage and less herbicide applications and providing a strong food nutritional profile (higher protein level relative to conventional wheat).

All these aspects are what contributed to Cattani being selected for the award.