With the Australian Sorghum industry producing more grain than any other Sorghum producing country worldwide it’s no wonder pre-breeding programs are highly valued and strongly backed.
A Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and University of Queensland combined research program is currently in operation from the Liverpool Plains, NSW, to Kilcummin in Central Queensland.
The program produces breeding material with particular traits useful for Australian environmental conditions, of which seed companies are destined to license and commercialise.
About 30 Sorghum growers and agronomists attended a field walk on Thursday to examine a trial crop of 2000 different Sorghum varieties planted near Jimbour on the Darling Downs in December 2015.
Sorghum breeder and geneticist David Jordan, from the University of Queensland and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, has been a key figure within the trial and said the field walk aimed to demonstrate industry developments to growers.
“We tend to be a little in the background but we like to have these days because we’re investing growers’ money so we want to convince them it’s being spent wisely,” he said.
“The program we run is quite famous on the world stage- we’ve got grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work on drought.”
Prof. Jordan said the primary goal was to look at the different ways to boost yield particularly under drought conditions.
“One of the things we’re interested in doing is trying to get hybrids that are more specifically adapted for a particular region,” he said.
“It’s like long distance running versus sprinting- you can have someone that does both but they’ll never be the best at both.
“In Australia we’ve tended to focus on general adaptation or something that does everything and we think the opportunity is there to push things at the higher end and also at the more stressful drier end.”
Hermitage research station plant breeder Alan Cruickshank said the benefits of the trial were most valuable when data was taken from a number of trial locations rather than each individual trial.
“We wouldn’t recommend a particular variety to a farmer next door to a trial on the basis of what happens there because the environment varies enormously not just from place to place but in one place from year to year,” he said.
“The ultimate game is benefiting the Queensland grain industry and Australia more broadly and seed companies are very interested to see the results- they ask questions, we have a dialogue and they license material as a result of that.”
Garry and Zena Ronnfeldt hosted the Jimbour trial and said it was crucial growers continued to support Sorghum research and development.
“We’re not here today to look at varieties we can grow next year. We’re looking at genetic traits that, thanks to these researchers and in part to our GRDC levies, the seed breeders may be able to develop into commercial varieties that we can grow five or 10 years from now,” Mrs Ronnfeldt said.
“If we don’t invest the resources today we won’t have the basis of the varieties that we will need in the future to increase our production and remain globally competitive and profitable.”
According to Prof. Jordan, remaining profitable under increasingly challenging weather conditions was a crucial recipe within the trial.
“Sorghum farming in Australia mostly occurs in dryland cropping systems so making the best use of water is paramount,” he said.
“We’re a way back from the commercial side of things but finding a lot of potential in Sorghum and big opportunities to push yields higher.”