Dispatches from the 10th Annual Oilseed and Grain Trade Summit, Minneapolis

Improved seeds, contract production and organics mark growth areas for US feed sorghum

By Aerin Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

Improved seeds, contract production and organics mark growth areas for US feed sorghum

Related tags: Sorghum, Us

Sorghum saw a growth spurt in the US in 2014, and industry officials expect continued but slower improvement.

Last year there was a 22% overall growth in sorghum acreage, said Tim Lust, US National Sorghum Producers and Sorghum Checkoff CEO, speaking during the Oilseed & Grain Trade Summit 2015 in Minneapolis last week.

Some areas of the US saw up to 33% growth and the crop is up almost 50% in the last five years, he said.

“While we may not see the record prices and the record pace that we saw last year, that was pretty substantial, we do see a long-term pattern of continued growth,”​ he said. “We believe that China will recover, and overtime it will continue to grow, and will continue to increase its demand for feed grains and certainly we believe we’re very well positioned to be a part of that.”

While China has been a “bright spot”​ for the feed grain in recent years, there also been growth in domestic use, said Lust. The expectation is that growth will continue at a smaller percentage than in the last year, and in US regions that have access to the export market including Arkansas and Southern Texas.

In 2015, the Chinese market imported about 80% of the US grain sorghum crop, Lust told FeedNavigator. Most of the amount imported goes to the commercial production of swine and ducks.

“They feed a lot of ducks,”​ he said. “It’s one of their main poultry (sources), where we eat a lot of chickens they eat ducks.”

Domestic use

Due to the quantities being exported to China, some US livestock producers have started making early arrangements for contract production to ensure a supply of feed sorghum, said Lust.

“They negotiate prices in advance and it takes them out of the up and down of the sorghum market,”​ he said.

Additionally, there are a number of farmers starting to move into organic sorghum production, said Lust.

“Some of our geographic areas are better suited for being able to do that, so while it is still a small percentage it is a growth market,”​ he said. “Some of the strongest growth areas are southern Kansas and the Texas panhandle.”

Research

A sorghum checkoff, which includes promotion, research and information initiatives, is dedicated to improving profitability for US growers of the grain and involves support for several issues including the development of better strains of sorghum.

“Why our producers wanted to start a checkoff was because we were lagging behind from a genetics stand point – [we need] a lot of improvements in germ plasm, a lot of investment in better higher yielding germ plasm,”​ said Lust.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy (DOE) last week announced funding for sorghum research. Drought tolerance and nitrogen usage and their microbiological interactions with sorghum plants will be the focus of the two projects funded.

Thirteen institutions have teamed up for the two projects. The University of California, Berkeley, will lead the $12.3m effort on drought tolerance, and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, will lead the $13.5m project on nitrogen usage.              

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