Grain Sorghum / Sweet Sorghum
- Sorghum is a coarse, upright growing grass that is used
for both grain and forage production. Grain sorghum is shorter
and has been bred for higher grain yields.
- Grain sorghum is also
called "milo" and is a major feed grain for cattle.
- Grain sorghum grows well in
Oklahoma because it doesn't require a lot of water and
can survive long, hot summers.
- In Oklahoma and throughout the US, sorghum is
a principal feed ingredient for both cattle and poultry.
Its protein content is higher than corn and about equal to
wheat. Its fat content is lower than corn but higher than
- Sorghum has a very hard kernel, which makes it resistant
to disease and damage but harder to digest for
- Sorghum is ground, cracked, steam flaked, and/or roasted. It
can be cooked like rice, made into porridge, malted for
beer, baked into flatbreads and popped like popcorn.
- Sorghum originated in Egypt 4,000 years ago and today
is Africa's second most important cereal. Africa now produces
20 million tons of sorghum per year, a third of the world
- From Egypt, sorghum spread throughout Africa and into
India. It is one of the longest-cultivated plants of warm
regions in Africa and Asia–especially
in India and China.
- Sorghum has now become an important crop in Latin America
as well. The crop has gained prominence in Mexico over
the past half-century, and the number of hectares of sorghum
planted in the country grew over 1,000 percent from 1958
to 1980. Mexico has large areas of dry farmland, and sorghum
requires less water than maize and wheat.
- The first sorghum seeds may have been brought into the
United States during the late 1700's on slave ships. At
that time it was known as "Guinea corn."
is believed that Benjamin Franklin introduced the first
grain sorghum crop to the United States.
- Sorghum ranks fifth among the most important cereal
crops of the world, after wheat, rice, maize, and barley
in both total area planted and production.
- Eighty percent of
the area devoted to sorghum is located within Africa and
sorghum plants are coarse annual grasses. Nearly all varieties
grown in the United States are dwarf types,
with stems under 5 feet in height and suitable for harvesting
with combines. Many taller-stemmed varieties are grown
in other countries.
- Like corn, sorghum can be grown
under a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. Unlike
corn, however, sorghum's yield under different conditions
is not so varied. Consequently, it is grown primarily in
arid areas where corn wouldn't make it without substantial
- In Africa, the straw of traditional tall sorghums
is used to make palisades in villages or around a homestead.
The plant bases are an important source of fuel for cooking
and the stems of wild varieties are used to make baskets
or fish traps. Dye extracted from sorghum is used in
West Africa to color leather red.
- Sorghum starch is manufactured in the US by a wet-milling
process similar to that used for corn starch, then made into
dextrose for use in foods.
- Starch from waxy sorghums is used
in adhesives and for sizing paper and fabrics, and is an
ingredient in oil drilling "mud."
- Oklahoma is one of the top seven states where grain
sorghum is produced. An average of 15 million bushels
are harvested for grain each year. The majority of
grain sorghum is produced in the panhandle and north-central
Oklahoma, however, it is also grown in the northeast
and southwestern areas of the state. Grain sorghum
is primarily used as cattle or hog feed either in Oklahoma
or shipped out-of-state to other livestock producers.
feterita, kaffir or kaffir corn, kaoliang, milo or milo maize,
and shallu are all varieties of grain sorghum. The pulverized
grain is used for stock and poultry feeds and, in the Old
World, for food. Sorghums also provide cover crops and green
manures, grain substitutes for many industrial processes
that employ corn, and fuel and weaving material from the
stems. Other classes of sorghums include sweet sorghums
and broom corn.
- In the United States, sorghum is grown throughout
the Great Plains area and in Arizona and California;
about half the crop is used for forage and silage
and half for feed grains. Only a small amount is grown
- Johnsongrass is a variety of sorghum native to
Africa that has become an invasive weed in Oklahoma.
- Sorghum is an important part of the diets of many people
in the world. It is made into unleavened breads, boiled porridge
or gruel, malted beverages, and specialty foods such as popped
grain and syrup from sweet sorghum.
- Sweet sorghum has been widely cultivated in
the U.S. since the 1850s for use in sweeteners, primarily
in the form of sorghum syrup.
- By the early 1900s, the U.S.
produced 20 million gallons of sweet sorghum syrup annually.
syrup from sorghum (as from sugar cane) is heavily labor
intensive. Following World War II, with the declining availability
of farm labor, sorghum syrup production fell drastically.
Currently, less than 1 million gallons are produced annually
in the U.S.
- Most sorghum grown for syrup production is
grown in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi,
North Carolina, and Tennessee.
- Sorghum syrup and hot
biscuits are a traditional breakfast in southern Appalachia.
- Sweet sorghum syrup is called "molasses" or "sorghum
molasses" in some regions of the U.S., but the term
molasses more properly refers to a different sweet syrup,
made as a byproduct of sugarcane or sugar beet production.
- Wewoka holds a sorghum festival in October.
- Many years ago sorghum was the sweetener of choice because
sugar was too expensive.
- Sweet sorghum is made from 100 percent pure, natural juice
extracted from sorghum cane.
The juice is cleansed of impurities and concentrated by
evaporation in open pans into a clear, amber colored, mild
flavored syrup. The syrup retains all of its natural sugars
and other nutrients.
- The syrup was an important sweetener for many small communities
well into this century and even today is still locally
important. In the 1860s sorghum cultivation was concentrated
in the Midwest, but by the 1890s it had become predominately
a southern crop. Production reached a peak of 24 million
gallons in the 1880s and then declined over the next century
in the face of competition from glucose syrups.
- Sorghum contains iron, calcium
and potassium. Before the invention of daily vitamins,
many doctors prescribed sorghum as a daily supplement for
people with deficiencies in these nutrients.
- Sweet sorghum can be grown throughout temperate climate
zones of the United States, including Oklahoma.
- Sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per bushel
as corn. Currently, 12 percent of sorghum production in
the US is used to make ethanol.
- OSU is conducting research on sorghum as a possible source
of ethanol. It provides
high biomass yield with much lower irrigation and fertilizer
requirements for corn. Research is focused on processing
sweet sorghum in the farmer's field to save transportation
costs and the cost of building and maintaining central processing
Members of the OSU Biofuels Team harvest sweet
sorghum to test the feasibility of in-field processing. (Photo
by Todd Johnson, OSU)
Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative
Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and
Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.