Today’s feature is a neat little crop that is attracting some attention of late–sorghum. If you are gluten intolerant, then chances are you know about this upcoming grain. More on that later.
Sorghum is often confused with corn, especially early on. It looks very much like young corn. So, if you’ve ever wondered why that field of corn is missing its tassels and isn’t tall, it’s because it is probably sorghum, and you may be seeing more of it in the future.
The name sorghum comes from the Latin word “Syricum (granum)” and the Italian word “sorgo” which all means grain of Syria. Sorghum ranks fifth in the cereal grain line up of the world, falling behind wheat, rice, corn, and barley. Of the 66 countries that sorghum is grown in, the United States is the largest producer! That is pretty major when it was just introduced in 1757 to America. Sorghum originated in Egypt over 4,000 years ago, so it took a while to get to the USA. It is now finding loads of uses.
Jack of All Trades
Sorghum comes in three main types–grain, forage, and sweet. Grain sorghum is of a shorter variety (5ft) and is used for livestock feeds, human consumption, biofuels, and pet food. Forage sorghum is taller (6-12ft). Because it has more to it, it is primarily used for silage (fodder that is preserved in a silo through anaerobic acid fermentation and fed to livestock). Sweet sorghum is harvested before it seeds and is pressed to get the juices to make biofuels.
Biofuels and Ethanol
30 to 35 percent of sorghum is used for ethanol production. One bushel of the grain produces 2.7 gallons of ethanol. Sweet sorghum is more hardy than crops like corn (it only requires 7 inches of water to produce the first bushel), making it a more ideal source of renewal fuel. In 2012, the USA produced 15 billion gallons of ethanol from plants. The federally mandated Renewable Fuels Standard will double that production to 30 billion with 8 years. Sweet sorghum is one of the crops that will be responsible for this increase in ethanol production. A big job for the crop.
46 percent of American sorghum is used for livestock feed. Sorghum can take the place of corn in feeding operations. Because it is more hardy than corn, it is often more attainable and cheaper (maybe that is why it is often called poor man’s corn). It is fed to beef and dairy cattle, swine, and poultry as a source of protein and energy. Most of sorghum is used for grain (7 million acres), but there is a decent portion used for silage (350,000 acres).
Sorghum has become the go-to cereal grain for those who are gluten intolerant. It can take the place of wheat flour in many baking goods. There is good news for beer lovers too. New Grist is a beer made from sorghum and rice. Brewed in Wisconsin, this was one of the first gluten-free beers back in 2006. Interestingly, it also got the government to change its definition of what beer is. Under the government’s policy, the starting recipe for all beer had to be 25% malted barley. With this new sorghum beer, things had to be redefined, and so it was.
Besides helping out those with gluten intolerance, sorghum is also a whole wheat that is super nutritious and has antioxidants similar to blueberries. So, basically you cant go wrong.
From Field to Food, Feed, and Fuel
Sorghum is harvested in different ways depending on its purpose. If it is going to be used for grain, a combine is used to pick the seed heads. If being used for silage, than it will be cut with either a chopper or a hay cutter. After this, it then goes to its various destinations, ready to be enjoyed!