Stan Cox, lead breeder for The Land Institute’s (TLI) Perennial Sorghum program, is transitioning to research fellow for Ecosphere Studies. Given the current success of the breeding program, and the near-term urgency of thought around limits, Stan will now be dedicating his time to researching the global ecological emergency. He will communicate and engage with other researchers and the general public through writing, events, and presentations in conjunction with the Ecosphere Studies team.
Cox’s new role is a natural transition. In addition to his direct agricultural research, Stan is an expert in ecological limits and the energetics of human society and has written prolifically* on those topics over the last twelve years. “Harnessing Stan’s expertise in these other areas represents The Land Institute’s deep interest in grappling with how humanity realizes a perennial vision within the material realities of a just transition,” said Land Institute president, Fred Iutzi.
Both Stan and The Land Institute remain committed to developing perennial sorghum for the U.S. and the global south. A search is open for a new perennial sorghum breeder and Stan will be heavily involved in transitioning his knowledge and the program over the next year.
Stan’s Legacy with Perennial Sorghum
Stan came to TLI in 2000, initially sharing breeding duties for all crops with David Van Tassel. As our research staff grew, he was able to shift his focus to one crop and became the perennial sorghum breeder in 2003. During his stint as lead breeder, he was key in building research relationships with a number of global partners and helped foster important discoveries leading to the advancement of the development of perennial sorghum. In the U.S., sorghum is commonly used as animal feed, but in many sub-tropical regions in the Eastern hemisphere, especially India and several African countries, it is an important human staple grain crop.
A brief list of milestones in the sorghum breeding population
- 1994 – Land Institute scientists Jon Piper and Peter Kulakow published a study of bicolorx S. halepense hybrid populations, concluding that perennial grain sorghum was a feasible goal.
- 2003 – Stan made initial crosses between perennial plants drawn from Piper and Kulakow’s populations and grain sorghum parental lines developed at U.S. universities.
- 2013 – Pheonah Nabukalu, postdoctoral fellow for sorghum, begins work at TLI, helping with data analysis, genetic mapping of traits, lab, and field work.
- 2016 – Land Institute researcherspublished a study based on field experiments done in 2011-13 showing that selection during the first seven years of the program (2003-09) had produced perennial lines with a yield increase of about 27 percent per year.
- 2018 – Land Institute researchers published the study, “High proportion of diploid hybrids produced by interspecific diploid× tetraploid Sorghum hybridization” demonstrating that large numbers of 20-chomosome plants were produced by crossing select populations of 20- and 40-chromosome plants. Less chromosomes to track will make it easier for colleagues in other locations to cross locally adapted annual sorghum with our perennial germplasm.
- 2020 – Current research partner countries include the U.S., India, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mali, and South Africa.
*Stan Cox Bibliography
- The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (City Lights) to be published in spring 2020
- How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe’s Path, From the Caribbean to Siberia – coauthored with Paul Cox (The New Press, 2016)
- Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing (The New Press, 2013)
- Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (And Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer) (The New Press, 2010)
- Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine (Pluto Press, 2008)