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UNL Alternative Crops Breeding Specialist Dr. Dipak Santra checks plots in the proso millet nursery at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center.
Goal of fund-raising drive is boosting proso millet breeding program
By David Ostdiek, Communications Associate
Panhandle Research and Extension Center
Crossroads Cooperative and the University of Nebraska Foundation have started a fund-raising drive to help support the proso-millet-breeding program at the University of Nebraska High Plains Ag Lab near Sidney and Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff.
The Crossroads Coop and The Friends of Proso Millet Research Fund will be used to support a full-time technician dedicated to proso millet breeding. UNL’s breeding program, the only one in the nation, has operated at a slow pace for several years due to lack of funding.
Those leading the fund drive say it would help ensure a continuous supply of breeding lines to test in the field, leading to the release of new varieties. It also would be used to develop modern breeding tools such as DNA marker technology, for developing new varieties faster and more efficiently, according to a letter being sent to dozens of potential donors.
The letter came from Crossroads CEO Deb Brauer, Crossroads millet merchandiser Virgil Schumacher, and Linda Boeckner, District Director of the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center. It is being sent to Wild Bird Feeding Industry members, local growers and businesses affiliated with proso millet production.
Schumacher said CEO Brauer had heard several months earlier that the ag lab was having a hard time funding the millet breeding program and asked him to find out what the cooperative could do to help. Boeckner put him in touch with Barb Schlothauer of the University of Nebraska Foundation and the fund drive was initiated.
“We here at Crossroads think millet is a very important cash crop not only for the producers but for all the business in western Nebraska, northeast Colorado and South Dakota,” Schumacher said.
The goal is to raise enough money to keep this program going for the next three to four years so to allow time to get a check-off program started, he said. “A check-off program of only 1 to 2 cents a bushel would allow this breeding program to expand and keep moving forward for years to come,” he said.
All common proso millet varieties grown in the central High Plains today were developed at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center and the High Plains Ag Lab.
“The proso millet research at the university is vital to the bird seed industry …,” the appeal states. “If new proso varieties are not introduced as time goes by, the older ones become susceptible to future stress (diseases, insects and so forth) and they start to lose their ability to have good yields.”
Proso millet contributes approximately $50 million annually to the bird seed industry. Nebraska growers usually harvest between 100,000 and 150,000 acres annually, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Over the past decade it has ranged from 50,000 acres to 190,000. Production ranges from 1.2 million to almost 4.5 million bushels, with a value of $4 million to $21 million. Nebraska typically has one-third to one-fourth of the nations’ acreage, according to NASS.
Crossroads Coop is a major supplier of white proso millet to the bird seed industry and member of the Wild Bird Feeding Industry.
UNL’s program is maintained by Dr. Dipak Santra, alternative crops breeding specialist at the Panhandle Center, at a minimal level due to the lack of any dedicated funding. Present activities involve making new crosses followed by developing breeding populations; evaluating germplasm for improved traits such as larger seed, higher yield, tolerance to lodging and seed shattering, and suitability for direct combining; and developing modern breeding technologies such as DNA markers and other genomic tools.
“I am very glad to see this initiative for supporting the UNL’s proso millet breeding program, the only one in the nation,” Santra said. “I am excited to make use of this resource to build a nationally and internationally reputed breeding, genetics, and genomics program for developing superior varieties of proso millet.”