Sorghum is one of the world’s most versatile crops and one of the top five cereal grains grown worldwide. It grows in all kinds of soil and weather, is highly resistant to drought, has a shorter growing season than many other grains, and is good for the soil where it’s grown. Here’s what else you need to know about this amazing crop.
What is it used for?
Sorghum is always in high demand, and that is precisely because of its many uses. It can be grown and sold as a grain, as forage for animals, and as a sweet crop, where it can be turned into syrup, made into biofuel, used in chemical production, or used to produce liquors such as rum.
When eaten as a grain, sorghum works like other types of flour and has powerful antioxidant qualities. It is high in carbohydrate and is about 10 percent protein and just over 3 percent fat. It is gluten-free and contains niacin, calcium, Vitamin B1, and iron.
As forage, sorghum is useful for all kinds of livestock. Fields of sorghum can be used as grazing pasture, but it can also be made into silage or green-chop. It can be dried and used to produce hay, as well.
Where does it come from?
Sorghum is one of the oldest useful plants known to humankind. It was first grown and used in Africa along the border of what is now Egypt and Sudan. Sorghum spread throughout the continent precisely because people found they could grow it in all types of climates and soils.
From Africa, the grain spread to China and India and from Asia finally arrived in Australia. In the early 1900s, genetics work produced even better varieties with greater versatility and resistance to mildew, pests, and drought.
The first step in successfully growing sorghum is to choose the right type for your goals and environment. It’s important to consider what the climate will be like through all seasons of the year, not just at planting time, and to choose the hybrid that meets your goals.
The next step is learning how to plant sorghum seeds. Planters are very accurate, but only if you know how much to seed. Plan for 40,000 to 60,000 plants/ha for dry land and 100,000 to 250,000 plants/ha for fully irrigated soil. If you have limited irrigation, plan from 80,000 to 150,000 plants/ha. Plant seeds about .6 cm deep and 20 to 25 cm apart.
While sorghum does grow well in many types of soil and is basically low maintenance, you will get higher yields with more nitrogen. The ideal way to fertilize is to start with a soil test. You will need about .7 kilos of nitrogen per bushel of yield.
Knowing when to plant
Sorghum is versatile, but it does love heat. It enjoys a long summer, so it pays to plant fairly early in the warm season. Plan for seeds to take four to 10 days to germinate.
How to harvest
When you can’t dent the seeds of the plant with your fingernail, the plants are ready to harvest. Either row crop or sickle bar headers will work to harvest the grain, and you should put the harvester at a height that yields a minimum of leaf and stalk.
Pests and other threats
In Australia, sorghum needs to be protected from the time it emerges until the late grainfill stage. At the early growth stage, sorghum is susceptible to armyworms and soil insects. Aphids, Rutherglen bugs, and sorghum midges are just some of the other threats to this crop.
Open-head hybrids deter some pests, and seed dressings will help with soil insects. Sorghum hybrids are rated by their midge resistance, with a rating of 1 indicating a completely non-resistant hybrid, and 8 a hybrid that is fully resistant.
Sorghum is a profitable and versatile crop and not difficult to raise. If you are considering this crop, the Grains Research & Development Corporation or the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources can give you more information.