SEEDS OF HOPE: Forest Hill sorghum grower Tim Pocock welcomed the announcement of new research into heat tolerance in sorghum.
SEEDS OF HOPE: Forest Hill sorghum grower Tim Pocock welcomed the announcement of new research into heat tolerance in sorghum. Dominic Elsome

Sowing the seeds for a better future

RESEARCH into heat-tolerance in sorghum varieties is exciting local farmers, who say more options are always welcome.

Leading broad-acre seed brand Pacific Seeds hopes to 'unlock' heat stress tolerant genes in sorghum that will deliver new varieties better suited to our changing climate.

Forest Hill sorghum grower Tim Pocock said research into new varieties was always welcome.

"I think it would be fantastic to have another option - we always like options and risk minimisation," he said.

Mr Pocock said if traits could be isolated and bred into varieties to better withstand heat stress, it would be an important tool for grain growers.

It's definitely another aspect for risk management - if you think it could get hot, you might plant a percentage to one variety to cater for that.

Mr Pocock usually plants more than 80 hectares of sorghum on his properties in early October to harvest in late January or February, depending on the year.

He isn't fixed on one variety, trying as many different types as he can, but recently he has been using Pioneer Seeds' sorghum varieties. He said the Lockyer Valley was a strong area to grow sorghum.

"It grows well - if we get a reasonable season it's something that gives a good yield," he said. "We do very well out of it."

 

Tim Pocock in a field of last year's dead sorghum at his farm in Forest Hill.  Mr Pocock has not planted a crop this year due to the severe drought conditions.
Tim Pocock in a field of last year's dead sorghum at his farm in Forest Hill. Mr Pocock has not planted a crop this year due to the severe drought conditions. Dominic Elsome

The higher rainfall across the summer months in the region means most sorghum is grown with dryland farming methods.

Mr Pocock said he would only use one to two mega-litres of water per hectare in a normal year.

"You use a lot less water than a corn and it (sorghum) takes the heat better than a lot of other types as well," he said.

But, high temperatures can significantly reduce yields from sorghum if they occur during the crucial flowering stage.

"If it gets too hot it loses its flowers, it cooks in the head and the boot stays - so you don't get any grain off that," he said,

Mr Pocock said new varieties and technologies were important tools for grain growers, and research was the future of agriculture.

I think if we're wanting to feed the world going forward there's a lot to be gained from science rather than sticking our head in the sand.

Research for the future

THE rising temperatures in many sorghum-growing regions has prompted a collaborative research task to develop a heat-stress tolerant gene in sorghum.

Every degree increase in temperature can lead to a 10 per cent yield reduction in sorghum crops, Pacific Seeds managing director Barry Crocker has said.

The project will develop a platform to screen sorghum for heat stress, extending the research to develop a gene, which will provide sorghum growers with a more profitable choice in warmer conditions.

Researcher Solomon Fekybelu said the screening would be done using controlled conditions where plants are exposed to high temperature.

"Sorghum is a model crop because it is well grow in hot and dry conditions compared to other cereal crops," Dr Fekybelu said.

Mr Fekybelu said it would be about five to 10 years before a new product would reach the paddock.

The study will take place at the University of Queensland, and plant science research and project leader Graeme Hammer said it was aimed to connect basic discovery and applied breeding works in one go.

"The plan is to identify psychological genetic mechanisms underpinning heat stress tolerance and then use the resulting knowledge and tools to develop heat stress resilient sorghum that ensures better productivity in hotter growing conditions," he said.

The study is a partnership between Pacific Seeds, University of Queensland and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.


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