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National Sorghum Producers and Danforth Plant Science Center Collaborate on Climate-Smart Commodities Project

Sorghum is an incredible plant that holds great promise as a carbon-sequestering crop. Sorghum’s inherent traits such as drought tolerance, make it an ideal crop to positively contribute to both food security resiliency and the mitigation of impacts due to a changing climate.

Image courtesy of American Sorghum.

This week, Nadia Shakoor, PhD, principal investigator and senior research scientist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center announced a nationwide team that will work to quantify the climate impact potential of sorghum as part of a five-year, up to $65 million project lead by National Sorghum Producers. Funding for the project was provided by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities.

Shakoor has significant expertise in sorghum genetics and has developed high-tech sensors to monitor plants’ environments and growth in real-time. Additionally, she serves as a principal investigator for the Sorghum Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI), a collaboration between the Danforth Center and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

“Sorghum inherently boasts climate-smart attributes, and a tremendous opportunity exists to implement further climate-smart production practices and activities on working lands to achieve substantial carbon capture, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to other associated environmental benefits,” said Shakoor.

The target geography of the project includes portions of six states and covers an average of 67 percent of the current sorghum industry, or 4.4 million acres annually, an area including Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. This already includes more than 20,000 sorghum farmers in a region vitally important to U.S. agriculture.

The U.S. High Plains is the world’s leading region for nitrogen use efficiency and mitigation of nitrate leaching, volatilization and runoff. Sorghum is a primary tool in these mitigation efforts and incorporating the crop into rotations in this region can improve the carbon footprint of U.S. agriculture overall. As a sun-loving, heat and drought-tolerant crop, scientists are investigating the expansion of its growing range.

If sorghum producers can be trained on and supported to implement climate-smart agriculture practices on a large-scale across key sorghum producing regions, and climate-smart practices measured, monitored, and verified it could significantly help increase market channels for this climate-smart commodity.

The project will also include a robust diversity and community outreach program that will focus on in-reach and outreach to underserved communities in the project target area with a primary focus of creating opportunities for underserved farmers to participate in climate-smart sorghum production and realize the benefits of ecosystem services markets.

“This is a watershed day for the sorghum industry,” NSP CEO Tim Lust said. “Sorghum is and always will be The Resource Conserving Crop™. This award affirms that fact in historic fashion, and we appreciate USDA for the opportunity to realize sorghum’s potential as a climate-smart commodity. For the first time, participating farmers will be fully recognized and fully compensated for the good work they do to improve the impact of agriculture on the environment. We couldn’t be more excited to come alongside them in this important effort.”

In addition to the National Sorghum Producers and the Danforth Plant Science Center, there are 45 project partners and supporters collaborating on the project:

The Salk Institute, Kansas Black Farmers Association, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Sustainable Environmental Consultants, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, Arable, Galvanize Climate Solutions, Kansas State University, Texas Tech University, Conestoga Energy Partners, Kansas Ethanol, Pratt Energy, Western Plains Energy, White Energy, American Coalition for Ethanol, Peoria Tribe Of Indians of Oklahoma, Women Managing the Farm, Kansas Agri-Women, Nu Life Market, Pinion, Kansas Department of Agriculture, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, Kansas Water Office, Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, Kashi, RIPE, Trust in Food™, Colorado State University, Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University, Argonne National Lab, National Cotton Council, Field to Market, Danone, Colorado Sorghum Association, Kansas Grain Sorghum Association, New Mexico Sorghum Association, Oklahoma Sorghum Association, Texas Grain Sorghum Association, Bayer Crop Science, CoBank, High Plains Farm Credit, ServiTech and No Chaff Group.

Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research, education, and outreach aim to have an impact at the nexus of food security and the environment and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants from many sources, including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.