Development of Perennial Grain Sorghum
Perennial germplasm derived from crosses between Sorghum bicolor and either S. halepense or S. propinquum is being developed with the goal of preventing and reversing soil degradation in the world’s grain sorghum-growing regions. Perennial grain sorghum plants produce subterranean stems known as rhizomes that sprout to form the next season’s crop. In Kansas, breeding perennial sorghum involves crossing S. bicolor cultivars or breeding lines to S. halepense or perennial S. bicolorn × S. halepense breeding lines, selecting perennial plants from F2 or subsequent populations, crossing those plants with S. bicolor, and repeating the cycle. A retrospective field trial in Kansas showed that selection and backcrossing during 2002–2009 had improved grain yields and seed weights of breeding lines. Second-season grain yields of sorghum lines regrowing from rhizomes were similar to yields in the first season. Further selection cycles have been completed since 2009. Many rhizomatous lines that cannot survive winters in Kansas are perennial at subtropical or tropical locations in North America and Africa. Grain yield in Kansas was not correlated with rhizomatousness in either Kansas or Uganda. Genomic regions affecting rhizome growth and development have been mapped, providing new breeding tools. The S. halepense gene pool may harbor many alleles useful for improving sorghum for a broad range of traits in addition to perenniality.