Adoption rates of improved or modern varieties (MV) of sorghum in eastern Ethiopia are generally low. Although these MV may represent an effective means of coping with droughts, given their early maturing traits, landraces could prove to be more drought-tolerant and better adapted to marginal production conditions. Whether MV adoption is a risk reducing technology is very much an empirical question which this article investigates using a unique dataset from eastern Ethiopia in a year of extreme weather conditions. Results show that risk-factors coupled with access to markets and social capital drive farmers’ decisions to adopt MVs. On the one hand, it appears that farmers use MVs to mitigate moderate risks. On the other hand, farmers who have been most vulnerable to extreme weather events are less likely to use MVs suggesting that MV adoption does not necessarily represent an effective means of coping with drought. Finally, findings show that MV growers are more likely to be affected by sorghum failure once controlling for exogenous production factors.