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Pre-breeding co-investment tackles sorghum lodging

Sorghum growing in central Queensland.
Photo: David Jordan

Key points

  • New $11.6 million investment aims to address lodging in sorghum
  • Lodging occurs when the plant falls over carrying high grain yields
  • It is consistently rated as the most significant concern facing Australian sorghum growers

A new $11.6 million, five-and-a-half-year joint investment aims to address lodging in sorghum.

Lodging, which occurs when the plant falls over carrying high grain yields, is consistently rated as the most significant concern facing Australian sorghum growers. It costs on average $12 million in yield losses annually.

This strategic investment aims to decouple 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.

Ultimately, breeders will be able to chase yields without risking greater lodging.

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

University of Queensland researcher Professor David Jordan will lead the project, which has grain grower investment through GRDC, with the University of Queensland and DAF’s world-leading expertise in sorghum research combining with Advanta’s industry expertise and global scale.

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

The announcement was welcomed by Darling Downs grain grower David Peters, the south-eastern representative on the AgForce Grains Board.

“Sorghum is an important part of our farm business and that’s the same for other growers in the north,” David says.

David farms with his wife Tanya and children at Allora and grows up to 400 hectares of sorghum annually. It is one of the enterprise’s main crops.

He says there were increasing concerns about lodging in this most recent season. “We thought we could be really lining up for it with a dry finish. But rainfall helped avert that. It kept the crop fresh and unstressed.”

Lodging is a big issue in some years, he says, and that is when contingency plans are made. That can include harvesting early and drying the crop, although David concedes that can be both expensive and time-consuming. “That’s why research into its causes and how we address it is most definitely welcome.”


GRDC business partnering manager Brett Ford says the research partnership follows extensive engagement with growers, advisers, researchers and industry about what they see as a key priority for investment.

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

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

Queensland’s Minister for Agricultural Industry Development, Fisheries and Rural Communities, Mark Furner, says the co-investment is another way the State Government can support sorghum growers and agriculture in Queensland.

“We have a long history of working closely with GRDC and University of Queensland, and we welcome the opportunity to work with commercial partner Advanta Seeds, tapping into this global expertise,” Mr Furner says.

“Sorghum is an important crop for the state and we’re looking forward to addressing this considerable constraint on yields through this pioneering pre-breeding program.”

Professor Jordan says the University of Queensland team is looking 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. 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.

“We have had a long-standing track record of delivering significant value for sorghum growers over many decades, and this five-year investment will ensure this work will continue. While there are no guarantees in research, it’s exciting to think what we can achieve together.”

Advanta Seeds Australia managing director Barry Croker says the company is focused on continual improvements to crop performance and grower profitability.

“The business is a significant player in the global sorghum market and at a local, Australian level we have a long, proud history of developing locally adapted, leading sorghum hybrids under the Pacific Seeds brand,” Mr Croker says.

“This investment demonstrates our further commitment to Australia’s sorghum industry and ensuring it continues to prosper long into the future.”

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).

Sorghum is the fifth-largest grain globally in terms of volume. As a nation, Australia produced roughly 20 per cent of the volume produced by the US (the largest producer), making it a significant but medium-sized player on the global stage.

Dr Ford says the joint research project will put Australia at the centre of global sorghum pre-breeding research and 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 says.

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