By Shalin Pinkerton
A postemergence grass control herbicide is not available for use in sorghum, but that may change over the next few years. The Sorghum Checkoff has contributed funding for a project with S&W Seed, formerly Chromatin, to produce a sorghum hybrid with tolerance to ACCase (acetyl-CoA carboxylase) herbicides, and they’re making steady progress.
ACCase herbicides work as effective postemergence herbicides for the control of grasses.
“This over-the-top grass control technology is something that, for many years, sorghum growers have been saying they want and is a high priority for them,” said Brent Bean, Ph.D., Sorghum Checkoff director of agronomy.
Enhancing Grower Profitability
The Sorghum Checkoff estimates yield loss from heavy grass competition can be as much as 50 percent. Even in the average field, yield loss from grasses can be high.
“Grassy weeds can cause huge yield losses, and in sorghum, there is little we can do about it,” said Steve Calhoun, S&W Seed vice president for research and development. “ACCase-tolerant sorghum will give us a way to control these weeds and avoid yield loss.”
In heavy pressure acres or in areas with a history of established grasses, ACCase-tolerant sorghum will allow growers to plant those acres with sorghum, increasing the available acreage for the crop.
Accepting The Challenges
Although initial observations of high crop tolerance are encouraging, experience with other genetic traits has shown the importance of careful and rigorous work prior to commercial launch.
The Sorghum Checkoff believes ACCase-tol-erant sorghum may be commercially available in the next three years. S&W Seed is committed to getting the product to market as quickly as possible. Once ready, S&W Seed will sell the product and also license ACCase-tolerant sorghum to other providers.
The development of new sorghum hybrids takes years of patient selection and effort. That is because it can take several years to bring a hybrid to market using conventional breeding methods. Now, the speed of hybrid development can accelerate in sorghum with a new technology—Doubled Haploids (DH).
Early And Continuing Success
In a three-year collaboration, the United Sorghum Checkoff Program and DuPont Pioneer, now part of Corteva Agriscience, made the groundbreaking discovery of two haploid inducers in sorghum. Haploid inducers provide sorghum breeders with the opportunity to create finished parental lines of hybrids in a single step, potentially cutting the traditional timeline to develop sorghum hybrids in half.
Since discovering the haploid inducers, Corteva research scientists led by Tanveer Hussain, Ph.D., and Cleve Franks, Ph.D., have moved to the next phase: the downstream process of creating a DH production system, including the early identification of the haploids, the doubling of the chromosomes to generate the finished DH lines, and increasing the seeds for distribution to sorghum breeders. Completion of the production system is still in the works with a few obstacles to overcome, but the pieces are coming together and scientists expect to have a production system soon.
The science of the doubled haploid project gets complicated very quickly for nonscientists, but the exciting news is researchers have successfully created several DH populations for sorghum breeders to use in testing. Hussain has created a number of lines for Corteva sorghum breeders and has been testing them in the fields in Johnston, Iowa, this summer as a proof of concept. Additionally, the haploid inducer lines have been licensed from Corteva to additional breeding programs, as well.
“For the first time, we’ll have doubled haploid lines for our breeders to look at,” Franks said. “Not huge numbers yet, but they’re there. There are actually doubled haploids in the fields, and we’ll be making hybrids with them this winter in our nurseries. That’s exciting.”
Benefits To Growers
DH technology is primarily a breeder’s tool, and it significantly speeds up a breeder’s ability to create pure parental lines for the creation of hybrids. But breeders aren’t the only group expected to benefit from the new technology. Sorghum growers will reap indirect benefits, and those benefits have tremendous potential for sorghum crops. Once the technology is thoroughly developed, growers will benefit by having better hybrids with higher yields and more traits, through the increase in genetic gain that can be realized through the DH process.
“Sorghum growers want hybrids that push the envelope and bring new traits to market,” said Justin Weinheimer, Ph.D., Sorghum Checkoff crop improvement director. “Development of this technology is going to allow sorghum seed developers to do that effectively and efficiently. Hopefully, the result for the grower is, in five years down the road, their opportunities for growing more productive hybrids is greater.”
Corn growers have already experienced the benefit of DH technology, and, based on those proven successes, sorghum growers can be hope-ful about what the technology can achieve, particularly from a yield and trait development standpoint.
“If you look at what’s been done in corn, for example, the way they switched over from traditional breeding to doubled haploids, it’s really a game-changer, and that’s no exaggeration,” Franks said. “It changed everything in the way they do their breeding, and it allowed them to get the traits and get the genetic gains and the better yields to their growers faster. This is a tool for breeders, but the end goal is to allow us to make a lot better hybrids.”
Hybrids On The Market
Within the next 18 months, as the final phase of the project, Corteva expects to en-sure DH technology is ready for use in commercial seed development programs. Once implemented, the Sorghum Checkoff anticipates it will only take 3-5 years before the technology will develop a hybrid seed that a sorghum farmer can plant as a commercial crop. Corteva will make the technology available to other seed developers.
Rudyard Kipling once said, “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” In a similar relation-ship, the United Sorghum Checkoff Program and the state commission boards must work together to generate results in the sorghum industry that benefit all sorghum farmers.
Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission Executive Director Jesse McCurry strongly believes producers have the largest impact on a unified structure and working relationship between the national and state boards.
“Producer leadership is the biggest component of cooperation,” McCurry said. “We have transparency and trust to be able to do things together as a result.”
The Sorghum Checkoff was formed with the support of existing state organizations to serve a bigger purpose and work on behalf of all sorghum growers throughout the U.S. In fact, the official purpose adopted by the Sorghum Checkoff board of directors is, “We exist to do as a group what we cannot do individually.”
“Trying to get unity and a complementary strategy to where the state and national [boards] are aligned and have a healthy relationship has been mission critical,” McCurry said. “We don’t have enough time or resources, any of us, to go at this alone.”
The Kansas Commission is taking steps to support strategic industry initiatives through investment at the state level.
“Trying to get tools out the door for farmers has been a priority,” McCurry said. “Increasingly, we’ve been doing more market development and promotion whether that’s been promoting ethanol-use adoption by consumers, investing more in the U.S. Grains Council and even through staff involvement connecting buyers and sellers.”
Texas Grain Sorghum Board Executive Di-rector Wayne Cleveland said their board appreciates the system in place and believes it adds value for Texas growers.
“There’s a very linear approach to everything that gets done, and it’s really great for our producers because we have resources and people with credentials making a difference in profitability,” Cleveland said. “There’s no compensation or replacement value for that; it’s just the people.”
The Sorghum Checkoff was established in 2008, which makes it a relatively young program at only 11 years old.
“It’s important to highlight USCP has not been around near as long as other commodity boards,” Cleveland said. “It’s easy to get impatient. As we get older, we will continue to learn and get better.”
In an effort to support national efforts for market development, the Texas Grain Sorghum Board is heavily involved in hosting international trade teams, ethanol promotion as well as other projects and education.
Jordan Shearer, executive director for the Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma state boards, said his board members keep the big picture in mind when funding research, market development or agronomic projects.
“We are all Team Sorghum, and what’s good for the industry in Oklahoma is good for Kansas, is good for Texas and vice versa,” he said. “We work with the national checkoff in recruiting talent for Leadership Sorghum and recruiting leadership for the national board to name a few.”
Mutual goals for the industry can be met more efficiently and effectively with the help and support of the state boards, and Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board executive director Nate Blum, looks forward to contributing to the success of the industry.
“The importance of a strong relationship be-tween the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board and the Sorghum Checkoff cannot be overstated,” Blum said. “Neither the state nor the national checkoff can function with maximum efficiency independently of one another.”
State boards are allocated a passback amount of no less than 15 percent and no more than 25 percent of total assessments collected for their respective state annually by the Sorghum Checkoff. Passback money is the source of budget for the state organizations and allows them to operate and fund different projects in accordance with the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996 and the Sorghum Promotion, Research and Information Order, which govern the utilization of all assessment dollars.
The Sorghum Checkoff board and state boards aspire to be a united catalyst for positive change and are working hard on behalf of the entire industry.
“It’s just like any family,” Cleveland said. “The better you learn to communicate, the better your results will be. We’ve all got the producer in mind and are contributing collectively to their benefit.”
These stories originally appeared in the Summer 2019 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine as a paid advertisement in the form of the Sorghum Checkoff Newsletter.