I just returned from a workshop entitled "Perennial crops for food security" hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. The workshop brought together about 30 scientists and economists from Australia, China, Europe, and the US to exchange ideas and data about perennial crops. The meeting consisted of three days of presentations and round-table discussions. Together with my friend and colleague Briana Gross (University of Minnesota, Duluth), we presented a talk entitled "From field to table: perspectives and potential for perennial domestication". Big thanks to the organizers of the workshop at the FAO, as well as the Saint Louis University Center for Sustainability, for making it possible for me to attend this terrific event.
Most agricultural systems are based on annual crops like corn, wheat, and rice, that need to be replanted from seed every year. However, perennial crops, crops that can stay in the ground for multiple years, are receiving increasing attention as a potential means to meet the nutrition needs of a growing population while decreasing environmental impacts. Although perennial crops will never totally replace annual crops, perennial crops will likely play a critical role in sustainable agriculture in the future. Topics at the workshop included challenges associated with making some of our traditional annual crops into perennials (e.g., perennial rice, perennial corn), domesticating perennial plants that had not previously been used in large scale agriculture, and expanding production and enhancing yield of existing perennial crops. Our lab has worked in several perennial crop systems (grape, pecan, horseradish) and will continue to expand into this area in the future.