Grain sorghum acres contract, but research and investment grows
Coming off a record acreage gain in 2015, it would seem grain sorghum took a hard hit in USDA’s June 30th report. But the impact isn’t as severe as one would think, says Tim Lust, CEO of National Sorghum Producers. In fact, more investment than ever is going into the “water-sipping” crop.
The five-year average trendline remains in the 7.5-million-acre range, which allows continued investment in the crop, Lust says. “Some mergers and acquisitions are being viewed positively by our industry in terms of what that will do for research investments down the road,” he adds.
The 2016 acreage correction doesn’t seem to be hampering investment in the U.S. sorghum industry.
In June, Monsanto and Remington Holding Company formed joint venture Innovative Seed Solutions LLC. Monsanto will contribute its global sorghum breeding business, including germplasm and intellectual property, to the $110.5 million contribution from Remington.
In a related transaction, a subsidiary of Remington will buy Monsanto’s U.S. sorghum production assets. Remington and Monsanto will have ownership stakes in the joint venture of 60% and 40%, respectively.
Chromatin, Inc., acquired Kirkland Seed Inc., a sorghum seed supplier based in Texas. The Kirkland Seed grower network and production facilities add operating capacity and efficiencies to Chromatin’s infrastructure.
Land O’Lakes Inc. continues its shift away from bioenergy by acquiring Ceres Inc. and its Blade Seed brand, an ag biotechnology company that develops and markets seeds and traits to produce crops for animal feed, sugar and other markets. Upon completion of the transaction, Ceres will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O’Lakes and will complement Forage Genetics International’s research and development pipeline.
The Department of Energy is investing $70 million in sorghum research through the Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture program, to develop technologies that can increase the precision, accuracy and quantity of energy crops breeding. Doing so will enable detailed measurements of phenotyping, plant physiology and sophisticated bioinformatics for sorghum gene discovery and trait association.
These research efforts will play a key role in catapulting sorghum knowledge and discovery. “I think seed companies could fully adapt that technology into their own programs to be able to move forward pretty quickly,” Lust adds.
A new player making it to farmers’ fields is DuPont’s Zest herbicide, with active ingredient nicosulfuron, to provide over-the-top grass control. The product is a result of a 10-year partnership between Kansas State University and DuPont.
Zest complements DuPont’s non-GMO Inzen sulfonylurea herbicide-tolerant sorghum trait, which was also approved this year. DuPont and Advanta US have a joint agreement to commercialize the trait, which allows for the use of herbicides containing nicosulfuron and rimsulfuron for postemergence control of grass weeds.
“There are small quantities out this year, and we expect more significant numbers of trials out next year,” Lust says. “That is one tool that has been talked about for several years, and actually having seed in the field this year, even though it is small quantities, is exciting.”
With these solid financial efforts in play, sorghum farmers are still very much in the game.