Recent research funded by the Sorghum Checkoff is getting closer to finding cold and drought tolerant sorghum hybrids that could help increase sorghum yields in the future.

World Food Prize winner, Gebisa Ejeta of Purdue University, is working on a project to develop a commercialized cold tolerant sorghum hybrid. The objective of this project is to transfer cold tolerant genes from a Chinese cold tolerant line to selected sorghum inbred lines to create a hybrid that can germinate in cooler soil. This will give sorghum growers a longer growing season and potentially increased yields.

South Dakota sorghum farmer, Jerry VanZee, said although research takes time, the Sorghum Checkoff’s work with researchers is helping to bring more profitable hybrids and better management tools to growers.

“Cold tolerance is a big step for sorghum,” VanZee said. “Here in South Dakota, as well as some southern states, we could get a lot more out of our sorghum if we could plant a few weeks earlier. This type of research will help make sorghum more profitable to grow.”

Researchers have found two new genetic crosses that will be advanced rapidly into early generations of what could be a commercialized cold tolerant sorghum hybrid. All of the advanced generations from the summer 2010 research have been planted at the Puerto Rico winter nursery for the winter months.

Gloria Burow of USDA-ARS in Lubbock, Texas, is also involved in cold tolerant sorghum hybrid research. While Burow and Ejeta are working independently on two different populations of sorghum, they are seeing similar results and comparing those results to better understand the genetics.

“It is encouraging that we have identified the same specific region of the chromosome as that of Ejeta’s group to study cold tolerance in sorghum,” Burow said. “There is open communication between us and the researchers at Purdue and we are sharing information to further our studies.”

In addition, USDA-ARS researcher, John Burke, has been working to develop a drought tolerant sorghum hybrid. Burke has discovered eight genetic lines that that maintained green leaves in low light. Although sorghum is a naturally drought tolerant, increased drought tolerant genetics would increase yields. These genetic lines mean researchers are one step closer to developing a drought tolerant sorghum hybrid.