Checkoff partners with DuPont Pioneer to deliver new hybrids to farmers
For the past several years, sorghum research has trailed that of corn and soybeans, but that could soon change. For example, DuPont Pioneer is partnering with the Sorghum Checkoff to improve sorghum breeding by focusing on haploid systems.
“Conventional breeding requires rigorous cycles of backcrossing,” explains Justin Weinheimer, Sorghum Checkoff crop improvement director. “Double haploid systems reduce backcrossing so researchers create hybrids more efficiently and give farmers access to technology in sorghum faster.”
The group found two sorghum inducer lines—the first step to a double haploid breeding system. It was also the first discovery of its kind in sorghum. An inducer line is used to create sorghum progeny with a single set of chromosomes instead of the two copies normally found in sorghum. After these chromosomes are doubled, breeders can make hybrid crosses with all chromosomes homozygous in just one generation.
The process cuts the time needed to create an inbred line from the current four to six years down to just one, says Cleve Franks, DuPont Pioneer sorghum researcher. “This will allow us to expedite the breeding process tremendously, as well as streamline adding traits like herbicide, drought or sugarcane aphid tolerance.”
The technology is still non-GMO. Breeders use native traits and the “blank slate” inducer lines to quickly produce the desired cross. The total time for a new hybrid can be cut in half to as little as four years from start to finish.
The next step is to get new technology to farmers as soon as possible.
“I’d like to see this used routinely with our breeders within the next three years,” Franks says. “Once it’s in place, new hybrids will move through our hybrid trialing system following the regular process.”
It’ll still be several years before farmers get to plant sorghum hybrids produced from this research, which was conducted in Iowa, Kansas, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Texas.
“Farmers who produce sorghum have not had access to sorghum technology like those in other crops,” Weinheimer says. “Our goal is to change that.”
Sugarcane Aphids Reduce Sorghum Acres
Sorghum acres dropped 14% in 2016 to 7.3 million. While weak commodity prices played a role, no doubt the expensive job of managing sugarcane aphids was to blame, too, especially in Arkansas, where acres dropped by 90%.
The winged pests have been in the U.S. since the 1970s, but only started munching on grain sorghum in 2013. The pest is capable of wiping out entire crops, and often requires multiple pesticide applications. Only two insecticides are effective: Bayer’s Sivanto and Dow AgroScience’s Transform. Sivanto is commercially available while Transform requires special allowances to be used.
In 2014, the pest cost an additional $64.29 per acre, while decreased pressure in 2015 meant it only cost $36.17 per acre.