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Sorghum 101

What is Sorghum?

Sorghum – a grain, forage or sugar crop – is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water. Sorghum is known as a high-energy, drought-tolerant crop. Because of its versatility and adaptation, “sorghum is one of the really indispensable crops” required for the survival of humankind (From Jack Harlan, 1971).

Sorghum Uses

In the United States, South America and Australia, grain sorghum has traditionally been used for livestock feed and in a growing number of ethanol plants. Sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per bushel as comparable feedstocks and uses one-third less water. In the livestock market, sorghum is used in the poultry, beef and pork industries. Stems and foliage are used for green chop, hay, silage and pasture. A significant amount of U.S. sorghum is also exported to international markets where it is used for animal feed, ethanol and other uses.

Sorghum is also gaining popularity in food products in the U.S. because of its gluten-free food and non-GMO properties. Sorghum is an excellent substitute for wheat, rye and barley for those who cannot tolerate gluten. Sorghum is used to make both leavened and unleavened breads. In Sahelian Africa, it is primarily used in couscous. Various fermented and unfermented beverages are made from sorghum. It can be steamed or popped and is consumed as a fresh vegetable in some areas of the world. Syrup is made from sweet sorghum.

Sorghum is also used for building material, fencing, floral arrangements, pet food and brooms.

Sorghum Production in the U.S.

Sorghum was planted on approximately 5.6 million acres in 2017. Of the 21 sorghum-producing states, the top five in 2017 were:

1. Kansas
2. Texas
3. Colorado
4. Oklahoma
5. South Dakota

The Sorghum Belt runs from South Dakota to South Texas and the crop is grown primarily on dryland acres. Over the years, sorghum has been either exported, used in animal feed domestically or utilized in industrial and food uses. In recent years, sorghum’s use in the ethanol market has seen tremendous growth, with approximately 40 percent of domestic sorghum going to ethanol production.


The origin and early domestication of sorghum took place in northeast Africa, and the earliest known record of sorghum comes from an archaeological dig at Nabta Playa, near the Egyptian-Sudanese border and had been dated at 8,000 B.C. It spread throughout Africa and along the way adapted to a wide range of environments from the highlands of Ethiopia to the semi-arid Sahel.

The development and spread of five different races of sorghum can, in many cases, be attributed to the movement of various tribal groups in Africa. Sorghum then spread to India and China and eventually worked its way into Australia. The first known record of sorghum in the United States comes from Ben Franklin in 1757, who wrote about its application in producing brooms.

Why Sorghum?

The inherent tolerance of sorghum to marginal lands and environmental conditions, its versatility as a food and feed grain, and its ability to produce high yields ensure its important role in the lives of millions of people throughout the world.