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Sorghum, an effective response to climate change

November 25, 2019

From, an interview of Frederic Guedj, Africa, Asia, Americas & Middle East Market Development Manager for Maize, Sunflower, Rapeseed &  Soybean Global Sorghum Market Development Manager within EUralis Seeds.

In France, scientific research on the genetic improvement of sorghum is particularly active. No coincidence that the country of the Alps is the largest producer of this cereal at European level. And it is not by chance that it is precisely in his laboratories that the varieties on the market today have reached levels of excellence, confirmed first of all by the experimental tests carried out in the plots of land located mostly in the south of France.

The conference that will be held on November 21st at the Aula Messieri of the Department of Veterinary Medical Sciences of the University of Bologna (Ozzano Emilia), organized by the European inter-branch organization Sorghum ID , will also discuss genetic breeding of sorghum.

The title of the event is ” Sorghum, the answer to an agriculture that looks to the future “. Fréderic Guedj, technical manager of the French cooperative group Euralis will also be present .

Dr. Guedj , what are the latest results achieved by scientific research on the genetic improvement of sorghum? From year to year this long process becomes more and more perfect. Today we can say that we have improved the stability and yield of the dry substance. However, it would be simplistic to stop at these two elements because the improvement also concerned the quality of the seed, in particular the protein content, the energy value and the starch rate, a very important aspect for the production of feed, to which Europe is destined about 60% of the cereals produced. It is therefore easy to understand that sorghum, today, it can represent a very important element in the rations destined for animal nutrition both for the very low risk of mycotoxin contamination, and because the European varieties on the market today have a very low tannin content which in France is <0 , 14% compared to a European average <0.3%.

Experts confirm that sorghum is a crop capable of responding positively to the effects caused by climate change. In this regard, does scientific research give priority to resistance to drought, low temperatures and diseases?These are the priorities of research programs, together with the precocity and stability already mentioned. The projects in progress follow these guidelines also to offer crop diversification in favor of more rustic varieties, with greater resistance to low temperatures that can favor a more vigorous germination following early sowing, guaranteeing equally good yield. Regarding diseases, the characteristics of sorghum and the cultivation methods used allow us today to consider them controllable, even if the alert should never be lowered because the strong development of any plant can favor the spread of parasites. The reduced water requirement of sorghum , which in the grain and silage type is respectively 50% lower and30% compared to maize, represents a valid alternative for Europe, especially if we consider that 85% of the surfaces cultivated in the Old Continent are not irrigated and must depend on precipitation which, as we have seen in recent years, is very conditioned precisely from climate change .

How much does Euralis invest each year in scientific research for the genetic improvement of sorghum and how important is it for the company to increase this aspect? Thanks to the birth of Eurosorgho , an association created in 2009 by the union of Seeds of Provence and Euralis that makes use of the expertise and professionalism of excellent scientific researchers, research on genetic improvement of sorghum, in France, has reached very high levels. This allows us to select the most suitable varieties for different uses: from silage to biomass, from the production of feed to that for human consumption. Every year Euralis invests 13% of its turnover in research .

How much has the production of sorghum in France increased both quantitatively and qualitatively thanks to the results obtained from the genetic improvement of the plant? According to the most recent data released by Arvalis and referring to 2018, from the seventies to today the grain sorghum has increased by 0.5q / ha / year , reaching an average yield of 55q / ha with peaks that can even exceed 100q / ha . From a qualitative point of view in 2018, in France, sorghum reached an average protein content of 10.4% compared to 7.9% of maize; 76% starch (74.3% maize) and 4.6% fat content  (3.8% maize).

What are the goals you set yourself in the short term? We aim to increase the tolerance of grain sorghum and forage at low temperatures, above all in anticipation of a greater diffusion of the crop in Northern European countries. The increase in yield is another of our objectives, as is the development of new types with a higher content of specific nutritional elements, especially for the crop destined for human consumption which in Europe covers 20% of the consumption of cereals and which we expect to increase in the production of bread, biscuits, pasta, liqueurs, beers. We also aim to make a seed rich in antioxidants, iron, fiber, vitamin B6 and totally gluten-free. Regarding forage sorghum, our goal is to improve its quality and production. The hope can only be to increase research on the genetic improvement of sorghum through projects involving public and private bodies. As we have already reiterated, climate change obliges us to find cultural alternatives capable of meeting agricultural, food and environmental needs. Sorghum is definitely an interesting alternative for our future.