Technology in Sorghum Research Through the TERRA Program

The Sorghum Checkoff announced a $500,000 investment in sorghum research last week at the inaugural Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) program field day at the University of Arizona.

The TERRA program will integrate biology, engineering and computer science into technological innovations that will facilitate advancements in agricultural productivity, crop yields, environmental stewardship and energy security.

These technologies were showcased at the field day, including the “Field Scanalyzer” located at the Maricopa Agriculture Center, which is currently the largest field crop analytics platform in the world.

Tony St. James has more:

“Dr. Todd Mockler, is principle investigator and associate member for the Danforth Center.  Mockler’s talking about the TERRA program, integrating biology, engineering and computer science.  “Field Scanalyzer” is the highlight, it’s the largest crop analytics platform…

“This project, largely driven by the fact that RPE is interested in energy, it’s focused on bioenergy, mainly energy sorghum.  But, nothing that we’re doing in the terms of technology development, even the genome sequencing, is tied down to energy sorghum and the technology and the platform is agnostic and is completely applicable to grain sorghum, to other crops like corn, the energy technology doesn’t care what the crop is. and the computational algorithms, and tools and pipelines that we’ll develop aren’t tied to energy sorghum, they really would be applicable to any crop.”

Mockler admits that research and data don’t mean anything unless you can bring it to commercialization.  

“I’m employed by the Danforth Plant Science Center, and one of the Center’s three major mission components, commercialization.  And the Danforth really wants to see the innovations and discoveries that we make, see those be translated into the private sector, whether that’s through a start up or technology being licensed to a seed company  and so on, so I have that.  My employer has a mission to see that happen.

And then RPE has a funding agency, more so than other funding agencies, RPE has a really strong bent toward commercialization.  And some of the successes in the eyes of RPE on this project will be judged on whether our discoveries or our technologies that come out of this are actually applied in the life of the project.  And this is certainly something that’s feasible, we’ve already had companies interested in partnering with us, it’s really also a matter of timing, so this topic, the field typing or phenomics, genomics, that we’re talking about, it’s like right here, right now, this stuff is converging, these topics.  And industry is fully aware of that.  And they are very interested in it.  so, as the project goes, I’m certainly hoping that what we discover will be in products, namely improved sorghum varieties that will be sold to producers, and making people higher yielding crops.”

From a sorghum field in Maricopa, Arizona, I’m Tony St. James.'

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.