WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2016 - Like all commodity groups, the sorghum industry is always looking to gain access and increase its footprint in a variety of markets. However, some sorghum producers are making a run at a particular untapped source of demand: the supermarket.
According to a spokeswoman for the National Sorghum Producers, the grain, which is still primarily used as animal feed in the U.S., can be found in almost 350 products on store shelves in the U.S. Primary uses are in flour and cereals, but it is also used as an ingredient in products like syrups and it has a presence in the pet food space.
“Anything that you find for wheat, corn, soy, rice . . . you’re looking at the same applications as sorghum and then some,” Doug Bice, high value markets director with the Sorghum Checkoff, said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.
What might be more noteworthy than the potential of food-grade sorghum is where some of it is being grown. Glenn Schur, a farmer near Plainview, Texas, is the sole provider of sorghum for The Silver Palate’s line of Grain Berry cereals. While lots of sorghum is grown in Texas, his farm exists in Hale County, in West Texas where cotton is king. The county ranks ninth in the country in cotton acreage. Cotton also makes up almost 60 percent of the value of crops produced in the county, which is about a five-hour drive from the grain elevator where Schur delivers his grain in Kansas.
Most sorghum crops could end up being food-grade; It’s just a matter of the harvesting and processing protocols that set the end product apart. Most food-grade producers are contract growers, and, depending on the terms of their contracts, their combine might have to be cleaned out before harvesting the food-grade product, and a particular grain elevator is usually laid out in the grower’s contract. This is to ensure that the end-result would be, for example, gluten free.
Of the estimated 597 million bushels of sorghum harvested in 2015 – mostly in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Nebraska – almost 18 million bushels, or 3 percent, went into the food sector, a 10 million-bushel jump from the prior year. According to the Sorghum Checkoff, sorghum consumption in the food industry increased almost 40 percent over 2014. In the U.S., about 90 percent of sorghum production goes toward animal feed.
While Schur’s sorghum goes to cereal, there are many other uses as well. Bice said he calculated roughly 1.2 billion bushels of grain, mostly wheat, are used to make flour. But he pointed out that if sorghum could become just 10 percent of source material for flour – 100 million to 120 million bushels – it would be 10 to 15 times more sorghum than is currently being used in all food products, including flour.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of sorghum in the food industry isn’t what it is, but rather what it isn’t. Sorghum is, by nature, gluten- and GMO-free, giving it an edge as many consumers seek to avoid gluten and biotech ingredients in their everyday food choices. The grain is also a good source of anti-oxidants and dietary fiber as well as a source of B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, and calcium.
Despite all the positives behind food-grade sorghum, there is still plenty of work to do to make it a mainstay ingredient on products on grocery store shelves.
Bice said promotion funds don’t allow for a major advertising campaign such as the “Got Milk?” initiative. Last year, the checkoff raised about $9.3 million, with $2.66 million earmarked for market development.
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