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  • Unconventional Ag

Three Great New Technologies for Grain Sorghum

Thanks to its hardiness, input efficiencies, and increasing global demand, U.S. sorghum production is on the rise. Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Nebraska lead the country in sorghum production, however the U.S. Sorghum Checkoff Program believes that new technologies currently in development could support sorghum’s competition with corn and its expansion into the Corn Belt.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service in Lubbock, Texas is working on the Multi Seed Trait, which could increase sorghum’s yields by 60% by increasing the number of seeds per head on the plant. In traditional sorghum, the flowers on only two of the three florets at the top of the plant produce seed; scientists at Lubbock have developed hybrid crosses that produce seed on all the flowers on all three of the plant’s florets. Seven different seed companies have the multi seed trait, and are working to incorporate it into their own germplasm lines, with one company currently conducting hybrid testing. If progress continues on schedule, farmers could have access to multi seed sorghum hybrids by 2020 that could match the yield potential of corn, but use significantly less water and fertilizer.

Alta Seeds is developing the industry’s first herbicide-resistant grain sorghum that would be resistant to the ALS herbicide called ‘Zest’ currently being developed under a joint agreement between DuPont Crop Protection and Advanta, the parent company of Alta Seeds. The non-GM trait will allow U.S. farmers to control grassy weeds including foxtail, barnyardgrass, crabgrass, and Texas panicum. Three sorghum hybrid maturity groups featuring the new trait should be available, allowing growers from Texas to South Dakota to gain access to the technology. DuPont expects final approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the fall of this year.

In addition, Pioneer Hi-Bred International is working on developing ways to make double haploid technology work in grain sorghum breeding which could bring improved yields, and resistance to disease and insects to market much quicker. It usually takes to the fifth generation of breeding before the value of a potential line can be determined. The use of double haploid technology can speed up this process, allowing scientists to accomplish four to five years of work in one year – creating a genetically pure line in the second to third generation.

Double haploid technology revolutionized the corn breeding process, and Pioneer is currently in the beginning stages of a three-year, checkoff-funded program to apply the same technology to sorghum, which it hopes will have the same significant effect upon the industry.

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