Sorghum is used for food, fodder, and the production of alcoholic beverages. It is drought tolerant and heat tolerant and is especially important in arid regions. It is an important food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia, and is the “fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world”. African slaves introduced sorghum into the U.S., where most of the world’s commercially grown sorghum is now produced, in the early 17th century.Recently, however, the US Congress passed the Renewable Fuels Standard, with the goal of producing 30 billion litres (8 billion gallons) of renewable fuel (ethanol) annually by 2012. This bill should noticeably increase the demand for ethanol producing crops for at least the next decade. Sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per unit as maize, therefore in hot areas where sorghum can out produce maize this bill should result in an increase in grain sorghum cultivation. Sorghum growers are hoping that this will create just the market they need to take off with production. Currently, 12% of grain sorghum production in the US is used to make ethanol, and growers are hoping for an increase.Sorghum and Beer
In Nigeria and Lesotho, sorghum is used to produce beer, including the local version of Guinness. In recent years, sorghum has been used as a substitute for other grain in gluten free beer. Although the African versions are not “gluten free”, as malt extract is also used, truly gluten free beer using such substitutes such as sorghum or buckwheat are now available. Sorghum is used in the same way as barley to produce a “malt” that can form the basis of a mash that will brew a beer without gliadin or hordein (together “gluten”) and therefore can be suitable for coeliacs or others sensitive to certain glycoproteins
Growing grain sorghum
Sorghum requires an average temperature of at least 25 °C to produce maximum grain yields in a given year. Maximum photosynthesis is achieved at daytime temperatures of at least 30 °C. Night time temperatures below 13 °C for more than a few days can severely impact the plant’s potential grain production. Sorghum cannot be planted until soil temperatures have reached 17 °C. The long growing season, usually 90–120 days, causes yields to be severely decreased if plants are not in the ground early enough.
Sorghum’s yields are not affected by short periods of drought as severely as other crops such as maize because it develops its seed heads over longer periods of time, and short periods of water stress do not usually have the ability to prevent kernel development. Even in a long drought severe enough to hamper sorghum production, it will still usually produce some seed on smaller and fewer seed heads. Rarely will you find a kernelless season for sorghum, even under the most adverse water conditions. Sorghum’s ability to thrive with less water than maize may be due to its ability to hold water in its foliage better than maize. Sorghum has a waxy coating on its leaves and stems which helps to keep water in the plant even in intense heat.
Sorghum is a grass of Old World origin, a drought-resistant, heat-tolerant member of the grass family.
Although wild species of sorghum are attested as early as 8000 years ago in the Nilotic regions of southern Egypt and the Sudan, the location of its true domestication within East Africa is still speculative. It is widely held that genetic separation of domesticated S. bicolor from its progenitor did not occur much before 2000 years ago somewhere in East Africa, possibly the Ethiopian highlands, but more likely further west
The presence of true domesticated S. bicolor is claimed much earlier than this (3700-4900 years ago) in India, Oman, and Yemen, although the identity of the remains as full domesticates is still disputed. It is well adapted to growth in hot, arid or semi-arid areas. The many subspecies are divided into four groups – grain sorghums (such as milo), grass sorghums (for pasture and hay), sweet sorghums (formerly called “Guinea corn”, used to produce sorghum syrups), and broom corn (for brooms and brushes). The name “sweet sorghum” is used to identify varieties of sorghum, Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench, that are sweet and juicy. A United States patent officer introduced sweet sorghum to American in 1853..