Improved Sorghum Hybrids for 2020


By Brent Bean, Ph.D., Sorghum Checkoff Director of Agronomy

New sorghum hybrids are developed and released by seed companies at a pace that tends to be slower than some other crops. However, in the last two years, the industry has seen many new sorghum hybrids released, providing growers with new and exciting options to consider. These new hybrids are not limited to certain geographic regions, so growers across the U.S. should have access to a new hybrid or two to try on their farms. Generally, in the first year of release, seed supply is limited, but growers should take the opportunity early on to plant a few acres of new sorghum hybrids in their fields to compare the new hybrids to older hybrids.

Before a seed company releases a new hybrid, it is rigorously tested under multiple environments. A seed company will bring a hybrid to the market only if it has some significant advantage over other hybrids it currently sells. Higher yield is always the goal, and the goal is accomplished when the hybrid has a higher yield potential under optimum conditions or has better defensive traits that equip the hybrid to better withstand abiotic and biotic stress for higher yield.

Abiotic or nonliving stress typically is caused by drought and high temperatures. Since growers tend to plant sorghum in dry environments, breeders spend a large portion of their efforts developing sorghum hybrids that can withstand periods of drought and still maintain yield potential. In addition, combating heat stress from high temperatures should be important to growers. Much of the U.S. has experienced elevated temperatures over the last few years, and the condition is not expected to change anytime soon. Moving forward, breeders will place more emphasis on developing sorghum hybrids that can withstand heat stress.

Biotic or living stress usually is caused by insects or diseases. In recent years, breeders have put considerable effort into identifying parental lines that possess sugarcane aphid tolerance and developing aphid-resistant hybrids. Many of the new hybrids set for release in 2020 have superior sugarcane aphid tolerance while maintaining or even increasing yield potential. For regions where diseases are an issue, some of the new hybrids have improved anthracnose resistance. 

Although new hybrids with herbicide tolerance will not hit the market in 2020, hybrids are in the pipeline with tolerance to ACCase (acetyl-CoA carboxylase), sulfonylurea and imidazolinone herbicides. Breeders developed each of these technologies using conventional breeding techniques to produce non-GMO sorghum hybrids.

In the near future, growers can expect the introduction of sorghum hybrids at a faster pace as breeders adopt new breeding techniques. The use of double haploid technology should reduce the time it takes to develop new hybrids by at least four years. In addition, gains in knowledge about the genetic mapping of genes on chromosomes, coupled with powerful computer programs, will make breeders much more efficient at selecting superior parental lines for cross-breeding to develop higher-performing sorghum hybrids.