Crops & Systems

Forever Green Initiative—Donald Wyse, (651 470 9878); Nick Jordan,

Forever Green 2021 intro packet cover image


Introduction to Forever Green PDF

For the state of Minnesota to meet proposed water quality goals, we must incorporate winter annual and perennial crops into agricultural landscapes. The Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota is positioned to realize this goal and more. The Forever Green Initiative is focused on developing new crops to ensure agricultural production to strengthen economies while protecting water and other natural resources.

By coupling innovations in crop breeding, agricultural production methods, food science, and utilization technologies, we can add to the productivity and profitability of current agricultural systems and enable major improvements in water quality.


Preservation of our natural resources is important to the quality of life and health of all Minnesotans. Among these resources, clean water is one of the most important to the citizens of the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Currently, the health of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and ground water is threated by non-point sediment and nutrient pollutants originating from agricultural systems. The human health risks, ecosystem impacts and economic losses related to de-graded water resources were highlighted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and 10 other agencies in the “Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Strategy” report. These threats result from land-use practices in both urban and rural areas. In rural areas, however, agriculture can provide the solutions that preserve and conserve two of Minnesota’s most precious resources, soil and water. The reported strategies suggest that it will not be possible for Minnesota to meet proposed water quality goals without incorporating winter annual and perennial crops into Minnesota’s agriculture landscapes. The Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota is positioned to develop these new winter annual and perennial crops, as well as the associated efficient farming systems that improve water quality and manage water quantity while bolstering the rural and agricultural economy with high-value, commercially marketable products. 

The Forever Green Initiative is composed of teams of researchers, farmers, food product developers, and entrepreneurs from all aspects of the agricultural supply chain whose goal is to develop and promote the use of new crops that enhance water and soil quality. Each of the new agricultural enterprises outlined in the portfolio below require a unique strategy for implementation. The Forever Green team is focused on ensuring that these enterprises strengthen Minnesota’s economy while protecting water and other natural resources. Our basic strategy is to create and couple innovations—in crop breeding, agricultural production methods, and utilization technologies—that add to the productivity and profitability of our current Minnesota agriculture and enable major increases in water quality and management of water quantity.  Forever Green innovations are based on perennial and winter-tolerant crops that create new economic opportunities and environmental benefits for Minnesota.

Minnesota’s current agriculture is dominated by annual crops like corn and soybean that grow during the summer, leaving land bare and brown for much of the year. Without active plant root systems to hold soil in place and absorb water, fields are much more vulnerable to wind and water erosion, and nutrient leaching; both major contributors to non-point source pollution. By adding perennial and winter-tolerant annual cover crops, we can improve water quality because these crops are active during most of the year, including the fall, winter and spring when summer annual crops are absent. For this reason, perennial and winter-annual crops—working in tandem with summer annuals—can capture solar energy, water and nutrients with very high efficiency. Perennial and winter annual crops can enhance habitat for wildlife such as pheasants, deer, fish, and pollinators. New efficient Forever Green cropping systems will improve water quality by providing continuous living cover resulting in protection of soil, by reducing water runoff, wind and water erosion, and loss of soil and nutrients that can occur when farmland is not covered by living plants.

The Forever Green Initiative has been underway, as a formal initiative, for almost 7 years. It has received funding from non-state sources, including competitive grants from federal, University of Minnesota, foundation and commercial sectors. It currently engages over 60 faculty, graduate students and research staff at the University of Minnesota, in a wide range of academic departments. Work is underway to develop a broad portfolio of winter-tolerant cover crops and perennial crops. New breeding technologies are being applied to make rapid improvements in these species, along with new methods for designing sustainable production systems, utilizing the crops as feedstocks for new products, and “de-risking” potential investments in these crops and technologies for entrepreneurs and potential investors. The Forever Green Initiative is attracting high-quality scientific talent to the University of Minnesota to meet the future workforce needs in agriculture, food, energy and natural resource industries throughout Minnesota

Potential for High-Efficiency Agriculture

As these examples show, the state of Minnesota and its land-grant university have the academic resources and capacities needed to become a national leader in the development of the high-efficiency agriculture. Our state has world-class resources of soil, land, water, climate and people. It is time to put these fully to work to help secure a better future for farmers, rural communities, and the state of Minnesota. 


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silphium factsheet front page image

woody perennials factsheet front page image

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summer annual grains factsheet front page image

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winter barley factsheet front page image

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