Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, [email protected]
Contact: Dr. Bill Rooney, 979-845-2151, [email protected]

COLLEGE STATION – A greater interest in forage sorghums from the beef and dairy industries has led to a multi-year agreement between Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Forage Genetics International LLC, or FGI, a subsidiary of Arden Hills, Minnesota-based Land O’Lakes Inc.

“FGI is excited to collaborate with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Dr. Rooney,” said Shawn Barnett, FGI president in Arden Hills, Minnesota. “For more than 25 years, FGI has led the forage industry with innovative genetic discoveries, variety developments and cutting-edge alfalfa product introductions.

Bill Rooney in sorghum field
Dr. Bill Rooney, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research sorghum breeder in College Station, manages an active breeding program with evaluation sites throughout Texas and the U.S. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

“This collaboration opportunity further expands our efforts to deliver best-in-class forage solutions to our customers and relentlessly pursue advancement in the forage industry,” Barnett said.

Dr. Bill McCutchen, executive associate director of AgriLife Research in College Station, said, “We are appreciative of FGI’s interest in our sorghum breeding program and willingness to invest in future outcomes. Within the agreement, FGI will have an option to license intellectual property developed in the program.

“Not only does this collaboration strengthen our program and FGI’s potential product development, but it will help identify forage sorghum traits that will benefit producers and all of the industry in years to come,” McCutchen said.

Rooney, an AgriLife Research sorghum breeder in the Texas A&M University department of soil and crop sciences, manages an active breeding program with evaluation sites throughout Texas and the U.S. His primary research activities are in the development of grain, forage and bioenergy sorghum parental lines for the production of commercial hybrids.

As commercial interest in bioenergy crops has waned, Rooney, who is the Borlaug-Monsanto Chair for Plant Breeding and International Crop Improvement, has transitioned from bioenergy to forage breeding.

“We’ve been working on forage sorghums for 20-plus years,” he said. “The challenges in the forage industry are to improve quality while maintaining agronomic productivity.”

Given the right hybrid combinations, silage sorghum has yields and quality comparable to corn silage. Further, that productivity is accomplished using less water, Rooney said.

He said the funding from FGI will help expand his forage breeding program, which has a goal of developing sorghum seed and pollinator parents with desirable forage quality and yield.

field with grain sorghum and forage sorghum
A Texas A&M AgriLife Research forage sorghum variety trial. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

“Our program has concentrated on seed and pollinator parents with desirable characteristics such as good leaf to stem ratios, producing forage plants of different types and heights,” Rooney said.

Matt Sowder, FGI director of corn silage/forage sorghum in Arden Hills, Minnesota, said, “Texas A&M AgriLife Research represents world class research and aligns with what we want to deliver to our customers. Through this collaboration, FGI can continue our intense focus on technology and hybrid development. Our joint efforts will provide FGI customers with cutting-edge solutions to productivity in their forage operations.”

Rooney said he is continually looking to improve sorghum for whatever challenges may arise, such as sugarcane aphids, foliar diseases and other stress tolerances to improve overall productivity and quality.

He said initially all the breeding process under the new agreement will be conducted at the College Station area facilities.