Heterosis and Composition of Sweet Sorghum
Corn, Rebecca J.
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Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) has potential as a bioenergy feedstock due to its high yield potential and the production of simple sugars for fermentation. Sweet sorghum cultivars are typically tall, high biomass types with juicy stalks and high sugar concentration. These sorghums can be harvested, milled, and fermented to ethanol using technology similar to that used to process sugarcane. Sweet sorghum has advantages in that it can be planted by seed with traditional planters, is an annual plant that quickly produces a crop and fits well in crop rotations, and it is a very water-use efficient crop. Processing sweet sorghum is capital intensive, but it could fit into areas where sugarcane is already produced. Sweet sorghum could be timed to harvest and supply the sugar mill during the off season when sugarcane is not being processed, be fit into crop rotations, or used in water limiting environments. In these ways, sweet sorghum could be used to produce ethanol in the Southern U.S and other tropical and subtropical environments. Traditionally, sweet sorghum has been grown as a pureline cultivar. However, these cultivars produce low quantities of seed and are often too tall for efficient mechanical harvest. Sweet sorghum hybrids that use grain-type seed parents with high sugar concentrations are one way to overcome limitation to seed supply and to capture the benefits of heterosis. There are four objectives of this research. First to evaluate the importance of genotype, environment, and genotype-by-environment interaction effects on the sweet sorghum yield and composition. The second objective is to determine the presence and magnitude of heterosis effects for traits related to sugar production in sweet sorghum. Next: to study the ability of sweet sorghum hybrids and cultivars to produce a ratoon crop and determine the contribution of ratoon crops to total sugar yield. The final objective is to evaluate variation in composition of sweet sorghum juice and biomass. Sweet sorghum hybrids, grain-type sweet seed parents, and traditional cultivars that served as male parents were evaluated in multi-environment trials in Weslaco, College Station, and Halfway, Texas in 2007 and 2008. Both genotype and environment influenced performance, but environment had a greater effect than genotype on the composition of sweet sorghum juice and biomass yield. In comparing performance, elite hybrids produced fresh biomass and sugar yields similar to the traditional cultivars while overcoming the seed production limitations. High parent heterosis was expressed among the experimental hybrids for biomass yield, sugar yield and sugar concentration. Additional selection for combining ability would further enhance yields and heterosis in the same hybrid. Little variation was observed among hybrids for juice and biomass composition suggesting that breeding efforts should focus on yield before altering plant composition.