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27 January, 2022

New investment tackles sorghum lodging

A new $11.6 million, five-and-a-half-year pre-breeding co-investment is aiming to address lodging in sorghum – an issue that is consistently rated as the most significant concern facing Australian sorghum growers and costing on average $12 million worth in yield loss annually.

UQ researcher Professor David Jordan will lead the sorghum-focused project.

This strategic investment aims to de-couple the relationship between height, yield and lodging to increase the water-limited yield potential of sorghum, reducing grain-fill yield loss by 25 per cent. The knowledge and techniques developed will allow breeders to chase yield harder without greater lodging risk.

The investment comprises in-kind and cash investment between Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), global commercial partner Advanta Seeds and trusted long-term partners University of Queensland (UQ) and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF). 

Ultimately, this pre-breeding research seeks to provide commercial sorghum breeders with the tools and germplasm to rapidly deploy pre-breeding outputs to growers, fast-tracking the path to market.

Sorghum is the 5th-largest grain globally by volume. 

As a nation, Australia produced roughly 20 per cent of volumes produced by the USA (the largest producer), making us a significant but medium size player on the global stage. 

GRDC Business Partnering Manager Brett Ford said the research partnership follows extensive engage-ment with growers, advisers, researchers, and industry about what they see as a key priority for investment. 

“Lodging was clearly that issue that mattered most to improve yields and yield stability,” Dr Ford said.

“This co-investment is the sweet spot for effective research and development, with an outstanding combination of resources in grain research and commercialisation.”

Dr Ford said each partner has ‘skin in the game’, contributing expertise and financial support to the investment. 

“GRDC’s aim as strategic investor is to support research unique to the Australian grain industry. 

“This collaboration will improve the accuracy and speed of sorghum pre-breeding, supporting faster commercialisation of innovation right here in Australia – and levy payers are set to benefit,” he said.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development, Fisheries and Rural Communities Mark Furner said the co-investment was another way the State Government could support sorghum growers, and agriculture in Queensland.

Professor David Jordan said the UQ team looked forward to working with the partners to continue to lead the way on global sorghum research and development. 

“In this project we are bringing together Australia’s leading sorghum research expertise with the capacity of global industry innovator, Advanta Seeds,” Professor Jordan said.

“As part of this project, we will investigate and introduce methodology that will establish consistent, robust and replicable methods that induce lodging, testing stem composition and structure – which has never been done anywhere in the world.

“We’ll assess diverse sorghum populations to identify the key genes and genetic locations associated with reduced propensity, to lodge and draw on this knowledge, so that we can create advanced genomic tools that enable breeders to develop high yielding hybrids quickly and efficiently to tackle the issue. 

“While there are no guarantees in research, it’s exciting to think what we can achieve together.”

Advanta Seeds Australia Managing Director Barry Croker said Advanta Seeds was focused on continual improvements to crop performance and grower profitability. 

While Advanta Seeds has a 12-month embargo on releasing results as part of the partnership, all traits will be publicly released unless all discoveries come exclusively from Advanta germplasm.

Dr Ford said the joint research project would put Australia at the centre of global sorghum pre-breeding research and would allow commercial breeders to rapidly deploy pre-breeding outputs.

“The collaboration creates a multi-win situation and Australia’s sorghum growers should benefit most directly and tangibly from the agreement,” he said.

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