Scientists at Washington State University (WSU) have developed a new perennial wheat hybrid, one that holds the promise of perhaps one day eliminating the annual rite of spring planting.

With a hybrid crop called Salish Blue, the scientists combined wheat and wheatgrass in a new species that could bear seed for ‘multiple’ harvests. Wheat is a plant that must be seeded every year, while wheatgrass is a perennial wild grass that does not require annual seeding.

For the past century, breeders around the world have been trying to develop a perennial grain crop from wheat and its wild (perennial) relatives. Development of Salish Blue caps 21 years of work by WSU scientists to stabilize bread wheat-wheatgrass hybrids through classical plant breeding without using gene modification, according to a university release. However, the scientists admitted that combining wheatgrass with bread wheat posed a challenge.

“It’s incredibly difficult to get what qualities you want, and hold on to them over generations, while not bringing along other things that aren’t desirable,” said Stephen Jones, wheat breeder and director of the WSU bread lab.

In addition to eliminating the need for annual seeding, perennial hybrids can also bring ecological benefits to grain production.

“Perennial grains add value in ways other than just being wheat,” said Colin Curwen-McAdams, a WSU graduate research assistant. “What we need right now are crops that hold the soil, add organic matter and use moisture and nutrients more efficiently. That’s the goal of this breeding program.”

Breeding Salish Blue, which was developed as a potential food and dairy forage crop for the Pacific Northwest, gives farmers new options.

“We’re working with farmers to determine what Salish Blue will do and how it will fit with their rotations,” added Jones.