Premium Markets, Premium Price

Sorghum growers throughout the country could soon be taking advantage of premium markets for a premium price. Some of the up-and-coming markets, including waxy sorghum, high-antioxidant sorghum and sprouted sorghum, could be a viable option for interested growers.

Article by Matthew Winterholler

Sorghum is sorghum is sorghum, right? To some, that may be a true statement, but the true versatility of sorghum may not yet be realized. Up-and-coming premium markets like waxy sorghum, high antioxidant varieties of sorghum and sprouted sorghum could be the future of the sorghum industry—and put more money in sorghum producers’ wallets along the way.

Sorghum is gaining popularity among consumers and consumer-facing companies for the variety of ways it can be consumed and its nutritional makeup. We’ve seen this through several big consumer wins from Kellogg’s recent inclusion of waxy sorghum in its cereal to the recognition of sorghum as superior for antioxidants.

But what does this mean for sorghum producers? The answer: premiums. The demand for special varietals of sorghum—waxy, high-antioxidant and sprouted—will mean more profit for producers who are able to take advantage of it.

All three varietals take advantage of the premium in the sorghum food market—a market value increase of up to $1.75 per bushel. That premium—around a 50 percent increase as compared to market price—can add up quickly. Although premium markets can require more attention at harvest and through contract marketing, there is little-to-no increase in input costs. The benefits are ripe for the taking.

Sprouted Sorghum

Sprouted sorghum may provoke fear for some wet-climate producers, but it holds great value. In the field, sprouted sorghum presents many problems, but in a controlled environment, what once meant loss can now mean gain.

The up-and-coming use for sorghum has become popular because of its nutritional properties, including easy-to-absorb fiber and protein. Sprouted sorghum is currently being used as a grain to make tortillas, chips, croutons and simply as a whole grain—think bean sprouts on top of a salad.

Sprouted sorghum is unique within the food market because it can utilize varieties of sorghum beyond food-grade. While still largely utilizing white and cream grain sorghum, the market also includes red sorghum, making it easy for producers to take advantage of the associated premiums.

Sprouted sorghum is not a main-stream market yet, making it a little harder to connect the grain to a value-added market user, but Sorghum Checkoff staff are working diligently everyday to make that connection easier and more streamlined for producers.

High Antioxidant Sorghum

Black and burgundy grain sorghum have become popular over the last few years because of their high-antioxidant properties. Other varieties of sorghum can also have high-antioxidant properties, and the health benefits of these sorghum varieties are just becoming more sought after.
Antioxidants are known to reduce cholesterol and free radicals, which can lead to aging and even a variety of diseases. Fruit has long been known to have antioxidant properties, but it has more recently been discovered some grains, like sorghum, contain them, as well.
Sorghum—including varieties not thought to be high-antioxidant—contains more antioxidant properties than other grains and most fruits and berries, making it a powerful food for many consumers.

Sorghum is also sought out for pet food because of these properties, allowing producers to take advantage of both consumer food and pet food markets with their sorghum. Greg Aldrich, a pet food researcher at Kansas State University, has also expressed a desire to study darker varieties of sorghum for pet food, which could mean expanded opportunity for sorghum producers at some point in the future.
The producer benefits with high-antioxidant sorghum have already been seen in the industry with a few producers locking in contracts with Silver Palate. Its cereals use high antioxidant sorghum as its key ingredient—also at a premium.

Waxy Sorghum

A newer development within sorghum varieties that have unique qualities is waxy sorghum—a varietal marked by a make-up of 95 percent amylopectin, which is a starch highly sought out by food companies for its higher digestibility. Typically, sorghum has a make-up of 70 percent amylase and only 30 percent amylopectin, giving waxy sorghum a leg-up when marketing for consumer use.

With plenty of room to grow market share, waxy sorghum has already shown potential to become a big player in the food market. After a year-and-a-half of beta testing and product research, a waxy sorghum variety created by Nu Life Market was recently incorporated by Kellogg’s.

Another viable market waxy sorghum has seen a premium from is alcohol production, especially baijiu, which is primarily produced in China. Waxy sorghum is desirable because it speeds up fermentation and creates more alcohol from the same amount of grain. Those qualities have primarily been marketed to international alcohol companies, so there is still great opportunity for expansion.

Both the food and alcohol markets have the premium and demand for waxy sorghum, so producers have options and opportunities to market their grain at a higher price.
In terms of choice for waxy sorghum genetics, both Nu Life and Scott Seed have seed in their portfolio with anticipation of more on the way.

Putting it into Practice

The introduction of these newer sorghum market opportunities could mean a higher return on investment for some producers across the country. While food contracts are still hard to get, the market grows every year and more growers are getting in on the action.

These markets are young but growing, offering significant opportunity for contracts with specific food companies. Added time and investment may lead to a more profitable return in the very near future for those who are willing to try something new.

Article contributed to by Sorghum Checkoff Market Development Director Doug Bice.


This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine as a feature article.