Int Sci In Afr&U S Conley


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Int Sci In Afr&U S Conley

  1. 1. Alia ConleyINT Science in U.S. & Africa<br />April 12, 2010<br />Feature #2 2nd Draft (EDIT NEW VERSION AFTER TEXAS TRIP)<br />Breeding sorghum is like solving a giant 1,000-piece puzzle. But, don’t worry, you’re not alone. You’ve got a team of other scientists working to help you.<br />Texas A & M University’s sorghum program is the go-to place for seed companies like DuPont, Monsanto and Dekalb. Gary Peterson, an INTSORMIL scientist, works with other INTSORMIL researchers to develop sorghum. Each scientist adds his or her expertise to the sorghum plant, until the puzzle is complete.<br />The INTSORMIL program works with scientists and farmers from Africa and Central America, but U.S. farmers also benefit from the research. Scientists use the discoveries in new lines of sorghum and the seeds are available for companies to buy. <br />According to Peterson, there’s not a better group of people to help you solve the puzzle.<br />“There has always been very good camaraderie in the sorghum industry,” said Peterson, a professor of grain sorghum breeding at TAMU.<br />Even companies, who are INTSORMIL’s clients, help shape the breeding process with comments and suggestions. Donnie Swink, Executive Vice President of Crosbyton Seed Company, travels to College Station or Corpus Christi to buy germplasm1, or sorghum DNA, for his company.<br />“INTSORMIL is pretty important to us,” Swink said. “It’s just another tool to get better lines and better products out to the U.S. farmers and the rest of the world.”<br />TAMU is a respected name in sorghum breeding because it is one of the longest-running programs in the United States. The program in Lubbock, Texas, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in September 2010.<br />Sorghum from the TAMU program is a big share of the overall sorghum market. Forty percent of sorghum hybrids in the U.S. have both parents from the TAMU breeding program and 50 percent internationally. About 60 percent of sorghum hybrids in the U.S. have one parent from the TAMU program.<br />Once Peterson and his colleagues create new sorghum with various characteristics, such as insect or disease resistance, they plant the seeds in fields in Texas cities associated with TAMU like Lubbock, College Station or Corpus Christi. Peterson marks and documents the different types with particular traits. <br />When the sorghum grain is mature, seed company representatives visit the fields once or twice a year to go “shopping.” They evaluate each type of sorghum and decide if they want to use the germplasm in their own breeding lines.<br />“Companies are going to use [sorghum grain] in varying amounts,” Peterson said. “If you’re a larger company, you have your own breeding program and you would take germplasm and make crosses into your own germplasm and develop proprietary lines that are then used to make proprietary hybrids, something that only you have.”<br />TAMU and seed companies used to be able to trade freely, but now the trade policy has become more stringent — companies must fill out various forms, and if the sorghum germplasm is used officially as a parent, companies must pay royalties and fees. Germplasm costs $500 to $1,000, with prices based on the special characteristic each type has.<br />Peterson joined the INTSORMIL program in 1982, three years after the program started in 1979. He said the release policy has changed often and the program must adapt to the changes.<br />“It used to be, if someone wanted seed we could just give it to them, but we can’t do that anymore,” Peterson said. “Now for the Texas program, if somebody requests a line, whatever the release policy was at the time that line was released is the procedure that they have to use to get that line.”<br />At shopping time, there might be 8 to 15 sorghum lines released for companies to look at. Each company looks for different traits, but all companies want to increase sorghum yield, because farmers are paid based off how much sorghum they produce. <br />“Seed quality is a big issue,” said Swink, also general manager and owner of Crosbyton Seed. “You can have a good hybrid but the seed quality can be poor.”<br />After yield and seed quality, companies look for characteristics such as maturity, sustainability, adaptation to other climates and a specific trait, like resistance to insects.<br />Peterson says Corpus Christi is a good place for companies to select sorghum because of the climate.<br />“It’s easier to select things in a sub-tropic environment like Corpus Christi has and move those into other sorghum areas,” Peterson said. “We’ve been able to have an environment where the selections will look good in a number of other places.”<br />There are only a few active sorghum breeding programs left, which is why TAMU dominates much of the industry. Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the United States Department of Agriculture, all programs with INTSORMIL, are also sorghum providers.<br /> Peterson said INTSORMIL allows scientists to complete research without worrying about applying for grants for money to support the research projects.<br />“Agriculture research is a long-term endeavor,” Peterson said. “You really can’t run a program that needs long-term results on short-term grants. INTSORMIL has enabled us to have a long-term view.” <br />In the last 30 years, the TAMU program has released 349 germplasm parental lines to companies around the world.<br />Swink said TAMU is a primary source when Crosbyton Seed Company looks for new sorghum. Communication between INTSORMIL and seed companies is important so scientists can create what companies are looking for.<br />“We give them our feedback on what we think the U.S. farmers and rural farmers need,” Swink said. “If we have problems with specific diseases in specific areas, that’s a problem to the commercial farmers. We give them information on what we need help on.”<br />Seed companies and farmers understand that a germplasm might not work out, and scientists will then try another type of sorghum. If a plant doesn’t produce a lot of yield, Peterson throws it away and plants something new. Although the risk for unsuccessful germplasm exists, farmers and companies still return to TAMU to buy sorghum because of the connection with the INTSORMIL program.<br />“Failure’s not a good word to use,” Peterson said. “It’s trial and error. If we knew exactly what plants to cross, we could solve all problems.” <br />Possible subscript?<br />1. See Germplasm brief. page XX by Heidi Garvin<br />