Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Perennial Sorghum

Sorghum is a tropical grass species originally domesticated as a grain crop in sub-Saharan Africa about 8,000 years ago. 

Grain sorghum is most closely related to the perennial species Sorghum halepense, or Johnsongrass. This presents The Land Institute an opportunity to develop a perennial variety by hybridizing annual sorghum, Sorghum bicolor, with S. halepense.

Why Perennial Sorghum?

  • In much of Africa and South Asia, sorghum is consumed in flat breads, porridges, couscous, beer, and other products. It can be used to make tortillas as well. In the United States, sorghum flour is increasingly being used in all kinds of processed foods, similarly to corn meal or flour.
  • Although it could take anywhere from 10 to 30 years to have a commercially viable perennial sorghum variety, there are good signs that our goal is feasible and that this work should continue. Each year since 2009, we have selected perennial lines with successively higher yields and more crop-like plant traits and have seen progress in key traits like perenniality and grain production. These are both complex traits governed by large complexes of genes, so progress in combining those traits is gradual year by year.
  • Early results of ecological adaptation to tropical and subtropical climates are promising, suggesting that it may be worthwhile to cross regionally adapted annual varieties from different parts of Africa with perennial sorghum.
  • Breeding perennial sorghum in Kansas means selecting perennial plants that can endure very cold winters. Our populations are also being evaluated at Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia, and Bologna, Italy, where winters are milder, as well as in Mali, Uganda, the Republic of South Africa, China’s Yunnan Province, and the Indonesian island of Bali, to evaluate for ecological adaptation in tropical and semitropical climates.

Clipboard in hand, sorghum breeder Pheonah Nabukalu inspects a plot of sorghum lines.

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Project Team

Pheonah Nabukalu
Lead Scientist, Perennial Sorghum

Stan Cox
Ecosphere Fellow

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