A new $11.6 million, five-and-a-half-year joint 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.
The 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, global commercial partner Advanta Seeds and long-term partners University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Agriculture.
UQ researcher Professor David Jordan will lead the pre-breeding research that 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.
GRDC business partnering manager Brett Ford said 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 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. 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."
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.
"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."
Professor Jordan said they had a long-standing track record of delivering significant value for sorghum growers over many decades, which would continue with this five-year investment.
"While there are no guarantees in research, it's exciting to think what we can achieve together," he said.
Advanta Seeds Australia managing director Barry Croker said his company was 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 bran.," he said. "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 volumes produced by the USA, the largest producer, making it a significant but medium size player on the global stage.
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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