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Sorghum

Introduction

  • A versatile crop, sorghum can be grown as a grain, forage or sweet crop. On this page we look at grain sorghum.
  • Sorghum is mainly cultivated on low potential, shallow soils with a high percentage clay content, not suitable for maize cultivation.
  • Sorghum, like other grains, has two basic markets that it serves, namely the human component and the animal feed component. It is used to make such foods as couscous, sorghum flour, soups and molasses.
  • In South Africa, sorghum meal (Mabele) is often eaten as a stiff porridge much like pap.
  • It is used to make sorghum beer.
  • Sorghum was identified as a preferred source of biofuels in South Africa. (Not much has happened – see “Local business environment” heading).
  • Sorghum seeds can be popped in the same manner as popcorn (i.e with oil or hot air), although the popped kernels are smaller than popcorn.
  • In Ethiopia, sorghum is fermented to make injera flatbread.
  • The animal feed industry is an important market for sorghum, because it is a component in the production of poultry, pet, pigeon and ostrich feeds. It is competitive with other grain crops both in price and nutritive value.
  • Some varieties can also be used to make baskets, fences, thatch and brushes.
  • There are two types of sorghum varieties, namely bitter and sweet sorghum cultivars. Preference is given to the sweet cultivars. Bitter sorghum is planted in areas where birds are a problem since it contains tannin which gives a bitter taste; consequently birds tend to avoid eating it.
Source: The Sorghum Trust; International TradeProbe, Issue No 50 and previous notes from the South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS). 

Further reference:

International business environment

  • The largest producers of sorghum are Nigeria, USA, Sudan, Mexico, Ethiopia and India (USDA, 2023).
    The top exporters are the USA, Argentina and Australia. The top importers are China by a long way, with Mexico and Japan a distant second and third (USDA, 2023).
  • Sorghum is included in the monthly “Grain: World Markets and Trade” circular available from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Find it on the Foreign Agricultural Service Home Page, www.fas.usda.gov.
  • Find the website of the National Sorghum Producers (USA) at www.sorghumgrowers.com.

South Africa: exports and imports

  • South Africa imported 1 121t of sorghum in 2022/23 (SAGIS, 2023).
  • South Africa exported 12 777t of sorghum in 2022/23 (SAGIS, 2023).
Source: SAGIS, 2023

Further reference:

  • Find the latest monthly bulletin and sorghum presentation on the South African Grain Information Services (SAGIS) website, www.sagis.org.za.
  • The regulations relating the grading of sorghum and the requirements for grain exports can be read at www.agbizgrain.co.za website of Agbiz Grain.

Local business environment

  • Sorghum is mainly produced in the Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Free State and North-West provinces (DALRRD, 2023).
  • Grain sorghum is planted mainly between mid-October and mid-December. The rainfall pattern and other weather conditions of a particular season mainly determine the planting period as well as the length of the growing season.
  • In South Africa, sorghum is mainly used for human consumption (about 93 percent of sorghum usage), which include food (sorghum meal) and beverage (malt) consumption. Only some six percent of sorghum in South Africa ends up as animal feed, as corn is the preferred grain used by the animal feed manufactures.
  • The market is around 56 000t bitter sorghum and 10 600t sweet sorghum (Staff Reporter, 2022). In South Africa the main sorghum grown is the bitter dark sorghum due to the bird problem.
  • A statutory levy in terms of the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act is applicable. The payment is shared between the producers and first buyers on a 50/50 basis. The purpose of this statutory levy is to provide financial support for sorghum research and information functions.
  • The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) expected the sorghum area to stabilise at 40 000 ha (down from the 79 000 ha in 2014) over the next decade with prices retaining a premium over the yellow maize price (BFAP, 2022, 2021).
  • Statistics (e.g. crop estimates, export/import etc) may be found on the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) website – www.dalrrd.gov.za – and on the South African Grain Information Service website, www.sagis.org.za.
  • The sorghum marketing season in South Africa commences on 1 April and ends on 31 March the following year.
Sources: South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS); Bureau for Food & Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031; The Sorghum Forum SAGIS presentation (15 October 2021); the USDA report mentioned earlier; the article “South Africa’s Sorghum Industry on the Decline” by Wandile Sihlobo (Agbiz), and “A road map for reviving sorghum production in SA”.

Grower points of interest

Consult the “Websites and publications”heading for publications where extensive grower notes can be found.

Drought tolerance

Sorghum is able to tolerate drought better than most other grain crops. This can be attributed to:

  • An exceptionally well-developed and finely branched root system, which is very efficient in the absorption of water.
  • It has a small leaf area per plant, which limits transpiration.
  • The leaves fold up more efficiently during warm, dry conditions than that of maize.
  • It has an effective transpiration ratio of 1:310, as the plant uses only 310 parts of water to produce one part of dry matter, compared to a ratio of 1:400 for maize.
  • The epidermis of the leaf is corky and covered with a waxy layer, which protects the plant form desiccation.
  • The stomata close rapidly to limit water loss. During dry periods, sorghum has the ability to remain in a virtually dormant stage and resume growth as soon as conditions become favourable. Even though the main stem can die, side shoots can develop and form seed when the water supply improves.
Source: An excerpt from the Sorghum production publication which can be found at www.dalrrd.gov.za (take the “Resource Centre” and “Infopak” options)

Role players

Note: Click to expand the headings below.  To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

 
eGrain – www.egrain.com mariana.purnell [at] egrain.co.za
Automotive Investment Holdings – https://autoih.co.za The AIH Group teamed up with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and Sorghum Forum to conduct a two-year study to determine the challenges and needs of the sorghum industry in South Africa. Find the articles about the findings under the Local business environment heading earlier (see “Further reference”).
Mabele Fuels – www.mabelefuels.com “A unique cooperation between historically disadvantaged individuals and specialists in the clean energy market”
Diageo Empowerment Trust Tel: 011 783 7903 The Trust has invested in sorghum farming initiatives over the years. Find the YouTube video “Diageo Empowerment Trust on Sorghum Farming”.
South African Grain Information Service (SAGIS) – www.sagis.org.za The SAGIS website for statistics (national stocks, producer deliveries, imports, exports, consumption, weekly parity prices, historical information, etc.).
South African Grain Laboratory (SAGL) – https://sagl.co.za SAGL is a quality analyses laboratory and has ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation. It offers a variety of quality analyses on grains and oilseeds.
Sorghum Forum – https://sorghumtrust.co.za The Sorghum Forum, consisting of all the participating parties in the sorghum industry (producers, traders, silo-owners, processors, labour, consumers and the ARC) meets regularly to discuss various issues relevant to the sorghum industry.

Further reference:

Websites and publications

  • The website of the Sorghum Trusthttps://sorghumtrust.co.za, is a first stop. It has notes on the history of sorghum, the uses of sorghum, the cultivation of sorghum, and more.
  • www.sagis.org.za, the SAGIS website, for historical information and statistics (national stocks, producer deliveries, import, exports, consumption, weekly parity prices, etc.
  • The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) embarked on a two-year study to determine the challenges and needs of the sorghum industry in South Africa. Find the articles about the findings under the Local business environment heading earlier (see “Further reference”).
  • A useful document was the annual Grain Sorghum Market Value Chain Profile which could be found on DALRRD’s Directorate Marketing’s web pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za. (Check to see if they have resumed publishing this document). Production guidelines can also be found on the same website.
  • Claassen J. nd. “Crop production: Sorghum can play a stabilising role”. African Farming. Available at www.africanfarming.com/experts/crop-production-sorghum-can-play-stabilising-role/
  • Publications available from the ARC include “Sorghum Diseases in South Africa”, “Field Guide for Sorghum Pests” (available in Afrikaans as “Veldgids vir Sorghumplae”), and the “Sorghum Production Guide” (“Sorghum Produksiehandleiding” in Afrikaans). Order on www.arc.agric.za or contact 018 299 6199.
  • Order online at www.arc.agric.za, call 012 842 4017 or send an email to stoltze [at] arc.agric.za for the following publications, available from the ARC Agricultural EngineeringAgro-processing of Cereal Crops Vol. 2 (Sorghum, wheat).
  • CD Roms from the ARC-PHP (Plant Health and Protection) include: (i) Crop Pests, Vol. 4: Field Crops and Pastures Pastures  (ii) Medically Important Spiders And Scorpions Of Southern Africa. Write to booksales [at] arc.agric.za or infopri [at] arc.agric.za.
  • Find Pannar’s Grain Sorghum Production Guide under “Products” at www.pannar.com.
  • Consult the AgriSETA Learner Guide Primary Agriculture “Harvesting agricultural crops”.
  • Taylor, J.R.N. & Duodu, K.G (Eds.). 2018. Sorghum and Millets: Chemistry, Technology, and Nutritional Attributes. 2nd edition. Pretoria: University of Pretoria.
  • Taylor, J.R.N. & Awika, J. 2018. Gluten-free Ancient Grains. Cambridge: Woodhead.
  • www.sadc.int – SADC is South Africa’s primary sorghum export market.
  • National Sorghum Producers (USA) at www.sorghumgrowers.com
  • National Sweet Sorghum Producers & Processors Association (NSSPPAA) in the US – www.nssppa.org

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