Since the perennial grains research project began in 2008, its focus has been on developing an option for mixed farming enterprises that works for both stock and cropping.
Finding a grass that has a good blend of grazing value, while holding grain in its head and therefore still being able to be harvested, has been a tricky proposition for the project which began at the NSW Department of Primary Industries Cowra research station.
Perennial grain research project lead Matthew Newell said there has been solid progress through the years and there was still a way to go.
"Farmers 10,000 years ago were selecting out plants that had the qualities that they needed for their function," he said.
"So something that would hold its grain in its head, had a bigger seed size, and would yield so it could be harvested at some point.
"We can do that with perennial grasses now.
"One of the ones that they're working on in the United States is intermediate wheat grass and the domesticated form of this is called Kernza.
"Intermediate wheat grass was a forage grass that was imported into the United States, but then people started thinking about perennial grains and it was one of the ones that they chose.
"It's gone through several cycles of selections. They get bigger seeds and you hold its seed in its head, but you can see it doesn't thresh cleanly. It still holds its glue.
"So they're selecting out for varieties that will have a clean threshing seed.
"One of the ones that we're more excited about here is called Mountain Rye.
"It's a relative of cereal rye, but it's perennial and their genomes are very, very similar.
"It has a similar history to intermediate wheat grass, but it was developed as a forage grass in Australia."
Mr Newell said there were serious benefits to sowing Mountain Rye.
"It's had no selection for any seed yield characteristics, so it's just straight out of the packet as a forage grass.
"There's great scope to try and develop that into the ground.
"We really want to develop it as a dual purpose crop because it produces a lot more biomass than annual plants.
"Currently, where producers are taking stock off crops at the end of July, they can leave them grazing on the rye until mid-September.
"That's another six weeks where producers aren't having to find feed for their stock.
"This is due to a later finishing period for the perennial crop."
Mr Newell said there was scope for development on the rye.
"Yields are low for it at the moment, around 50 per cent," he said.
"With a normal wheat crop you might get five or six tonnes to the hectare.
"Mountain Rye gives you about a tonne to the hectare at present.
"We are hoping to develop that a little bit closer to the annual cereal.
"We need to start a localised breeding program, and have local adaptations, and that's why we think the Mount Rye has really got legs because it was developed for Australia."
"It is a real opportunity to re-imagine this grass as a premium grain crop."
The perennial grains only need to be sown every four years, saving growers substantially on inputs, as well as providing other benefits too.
Only sowing once every four years means the soil is not being disturbed, leaving biomes which provide essential nutrients and carbon to plants in place.
Mr Newell said as it was developed for Australia, there was a hardiness to the Mountain Rye which helps it do better under tougher conditions.
"They've got huge root systems compared to an annual grain, and explore more of the soil for moisture and more nutrients," he said.
"Because you're not sowing every year and have reduced fertiliser inputs because of the plants ability to use nutrients, it can be a very good option for growers.
"Despite less yield, growers still need to make money and there is a premium market at present due to artisan bakers' and artisan brewers' interest in using it."
Mr Newell said there was still a lot of work to be done to make Mountain Rye a viable option for growers.
"They started developing Kernza in the late 1980s, early 1990s, and it took 40 years to get the first commercial crop," he said.
"It took 20 years to get the first commercial perennial rice crop and now there's about 40,000 individual farms in China using perennial rice rice, yielding the same as annual rice, and will yield that for four years.
"And the biggest advantage for perennial rice in those small farm systems is it reduces the labour component.
"It's having a real social change as well as having all of the environmental benefits.
"That's what we hope to get to with these perennial grains."
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