Crop of the Future - Grain Sorghum
May. 5, 2017
Brief Market Information
Grain sorghum, the fifth-most produced grain in the world, behind wheat, corn, rice, and barley according to the Whole Grain Council, is a hardy summer grown crop which has its origins in Africa. Through international breeding efforts, sorghum has now been adapted to be grown on all continents except Antarctica. Approximately 50% of production continues to be used for human consumption with many African nations in particular continuing to use sorghum as their primary grain instead of wheat. Markets also exist for brewing and distilling sorghum into alcoholic beverages and in the production of ethanol. In addition to human consumption utilization, sorghum is also a major feed grain for the poultry, beef and pork industries.
Global production of grain sorghum has been relatively stable for many years with approximately 60 million metric tonnes produced each year. The top ten producing nations are the United States of America, Nigeria, Mexico, India, Argentina, China, Sudan, Ethiopia, Australia and Brazil. In recent years China has become the world’s leading importer (and consumer) of grain sorghum as growing demand from the feed grain and distilling segments has seen their requirements surge.
Grain sorghum with its natural high stability characteristics, drought and heat tolerance as well as its nutritional values for human and animal consumption is a crop of the future that can face global warming and climate change.
Innovative breeding sorghum technologies
The key breeding technologies in grain sorghum are focused on improved yield, grain quality, heat and cold tolerance, and non-genetically modified pest and herbicide resistance. There has been a lack of new herbicides resistance and post-emergence grass weed control technologies which is one of the biggest challenges for sorghum growers. These weeds are too expensive to control with hand hoeing due to the cost of labour. Therefore it is imperative that growers have a way to control weeds after emergence. With Advanta Seeds herbicide tolerance technologies growers have another tool to maintain profitability in the crop.
When grain sorghum portfolios are analysed, the highest volume products are over 10 years. These are the good performers and stable ones. This is what makes the product portfolio renewal in grain sorghum much slower than any other higher technology crop such as soy, sunflower, corn or canola. There are many variables that impact the grain sorghum crop, but for growers standability and adaptability to various conditions that they face year on year are the important factors.
Advanta Seeds has been doing research on grain sorghum for over 50 years in cooperation with local farmers and research institutes, and constantly work on new products. Recently, Advanta Seeds created a partnership with Texas A&M AgriLife Research to open a new biotech station to develop new sorghum breeding technologies.
One of the most innovative Advanta Seeds technologies is IMI Sorghum. IMI Sorghum manages broad leaf and grass weeds in sorghum fields through impactful and residual activity of IMI herbicide traits which is more effective than any currently available herbicides solutions. IMI Sorghum handles herbicides in sorghum fields with no seed treatment needed, pre- and post-emergent treatment. With IMI Sorghum technology combined with Advanta’s hybrids farmers can achieve 5% to 10% yield and could incorporate more areas to the crop.
Another Advanta Seeds innovative sorghum breeding technology is focused on producing hybrids with Sugarcane Aphid tolerance. Sugarcane Aphid (SCA) is a new pest to sorghum in North America but its presence has already made an impact. SCA feeds on sorghum during grain development and can cause significant crop losses, reducing yields and stunting plant growth. Infestations of this pest in the field are costly to control and severe infestation can lead to lodging and subsequent harvest loss to complete crop loss. At Advanta Seeds we screened some of our germplasm and found many proprietary lines with tolerance in addition to the public lines in our collection. We have found tolerance in some of our female lines whereas other companies seem to be relying on tolerance coming from a male line. This helps with production and controlling COGS and shows the depth of the genetic diversity in the germplasm. It also allows to use these multiple sources of tolerance to stack the different genes together and provide the sorghum grower with a high and durable level of tolerance. This also means that it could be harder for the sugarcane aphid to overcome tolerance in hybrids using multiple sources of tolerance. Advanta Seeds currently offer a few sorghum hybrids with high levels of genetic tolerance to SCA, tested in field trials of Louisiana State University and Texas AgriLife.
In addition Advanta Seeds is working on various molecular and high-throughput phenotyping technologies that will allow to select the very best of lines in the breeding populations. This will allow to maximize gain for yield and to have a great agronomic package for sorghum growers.
Opportunities in emerging and expanding markets
With climate uncertainty and environmental conditions becoming more challenging, sorghum is perfectly positioned to step into the void of other crops which may become more difficult to grow. For example, reduced availability of ground water across the United States leading to less irrigation water available for traditionally grown crops such as corn. Growers in some of these affected regions begin to grow more sorghum due to its lower water requirements and high draught tolerance. Sorghum uses less water and therefore the environmental impact is much less compared with growing corn.
Expanding agricultural markets in Eastern Europe, South America and Asia offer opportunities for many crop groups including sorghum. It has been a growing market for grain sorghum especially under the stress of unpredictable weather conditions and reduced grain production. There has been growing demand for grain sorghum and farmers started to explore growing sorghum although it is a new crop and not well known yet in these regions.
Advanta’s sorghum breeding programs have already developed material for these new regions. Advanta Seeds has sorghum breeding programs in Argentina, Australia, and the United States, where material for all geographies is researched.
Sorghum for human consumption - Gluten Free and High Nutritional Value
Sorghum is a naturally gluten free grain which makes it an ideal choice for including in the diet of people who may suffer from gluten intolerance or choose to consume less gluten. It also has a high nutritional value with high levels of unsaturated fats, protein, fibre, minerals and antioxidants. The high nutritional values and health benefits recommend sorghum as a replacement for rice or corn. The interest in sorghum human consumption as well as the use of it in food production increased over the years and continues to grow.
There are currently no genetically modified sorghum products available. Sorghum is almost the only crop with no technology (Biotech or mutagenesis) added, compared to corn, soy and canola with Biotech, and numerous crops with Imidazolinone tolerance (by mutagenesis), like sunflower, rice, wheat, canola, corn and soy.
Sorghum is able to access markets which may have become off limits to other competitor crops which have adopted genetically modified technology. In non GMO markets this can give sorghum a competitive advantage over some more widely grown crops.
Hybridisation vs OP
The adoption of grain sorghum hybrids has seen productivity increase dramatically. Despite this, significant areas of Africa and Asia in particular continue to have large open pollinated markets. There are various advantages of hybrid products over traditional open pollinated varieties to ensure good crop performance. The right hybrid for the growing region will help evaluate yield potential, ensure the health of the crop, and consistency and stability of the crop performance.
Investing in sorghum
Facing global climate changes and understanding the benefits and use of grain sorghum, there is no doubt that it is a crop of the future and worth investing and developing new technologies for as well as demonstrating to growers its yield potential. Advanta Seeds being a leader in sorghum crop has capacity to provide technology for all conditions and geographies now and in the future.
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