January 30, 2009

For the first time in nearly two decades, sweet sorghum producers can purchase seeds from a new variety.

The variety, KN-Morris, was developed through a joint effort by researchers at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture program at the University of Nebraska. Researchers at the University of Nebraska started a study to test potential hybrids of sweet sorghum. With funding from the UK New Crop Opportunities Center, UK researchers then tested the hybrids and selected the best performing one for the new variety. In 2008, the Kentucky Foundation Seed Project grew the variety for seed at UK's Horticulture Research Farm in Lexington. Seeds are now available through the project.

"We only began our sweet sorghum breeding program here about five years ago, so we are excited about being part of the development of this variety," said Todd Pfeiffer, UK plant breeding and genetics professor.

The variety brings several firsts for sweet sorghum producers. It is the first hybrid variety of the crop. It is male sterile, which means it does not reproduce. That increases the crop's stand strength which results in less lodging. It also makes it ideal for sweet sorghum syrup production, because the seeds usually are discarded during the syrup making process. UK studies have shown the variety yields 25 percent more juice allowing it to produce more syrup than other varieties.

It was named for Morris Bitzer, UK sweet sorghum breeder, in honor of his contributions to the Kentucky and National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors associations. Bitzer served as executive secretary for both associations for several years.

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