Grants for institute aimed at perennial milo
By TIM UNRUH
Special to The Telegram
Two grants for the Land Institute — exceeding $650,000 — will add to the staff and enhance the push to develop and perfect perennial milo in contrasting climates.
The U.S. Agency for International Development provided $500,000 over five years. The award is part of a $5 million grant to the University of Georgia and research institutions in South Africa, Mali, Ethiopia and India.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is sending $159,111 to the Land Institute over the next two years to fund genomics analysis of milo populations grown at the Land and in Georgia. The aim is to identify young plants with perennial characteristics most likely to improve populations of plants being tested in the field.
The grants have allowed the Land Institute to hire researcher Pheonah Nabukalu and a technician, Kris Boele.
Nabukalu has completed a doctorate at Louisiana State University. She will handle field experiments at the Land and work with the group in Georgia to analyze data, according to the news release.
Boele formerly supervised seasonal workers at the Land and was promoted to technician to work with grain sorghum.
The nonprofit institute at 2440 E. Water Well is working to develop grains that mimic the prairie without the need to be replanted, reducing or eliminating tillage, protecting soil from erosion and reducing the need for chemicals.
Milo is primarily fed to cattle and used to make ethanol in the United States, but it's a staple human food in other areas, such as Africa and south Asia, said Stan Cox, a senior scientist at the Land Institute.
A breeding population of perennial milo (also known as grain sorghum) exists at the Land.
"We have grain-producing plants that are perennial but are not suitable for production. They still have a lot of wild traits," Cox said.
Researchers at the institute southeast of Salina are focused on "continuing breeding work to develop plants that would be suitable for producing grain," he said.
One goal is to compare research in different climates and conditions, so scientists will enjoy a "two-track approach." They'll work with plots in Kansas, which has bitter cold periods during the winter, and Africa, which has more of a tropical climate, so the plants won.