Push on for sorghum use in food and feed in Europe, Russia and Ukraine

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

The second International Sorghum Congress took place on 7-8 November 2018 in Milan, Italy. The event looked at how sorghum could compete with other cereals both in terms of profitability for farmers and economic and nutritional interest for users in both food and feed sectors.

The event concluded that sorghum has a number of assets in terms of its environmental performance. It has good resistance to drought and natural resilience to pest and diseases. In terms of safety, sorghum is associated with a low occurrence of mycotoxins.

In terms of nutritional benefits, sorghum is said to offer a chemical composition similar to that of corn, but with a slightly higher protein level and energy value.

The event heard that reasons why sorghum is not used so widely in Europe is, fundamentally, down to a lack of communication on the economic, nutritional and environmental benefits of using the cereal in feed and food.

There was consensus at the Congress that sorghum had also gained a negative image as a crop rich in tannins; however, delegates were told that the sorghum breeds cultivated today in Europe are almost tannin-free.

An EU platform - Sorghum ID - was set up in 2017 with the objective of encouraging farmers in the EU and neighboring countries such as Ukraine and Russia to develop their production of sorghum and promote consumption via active communication on nutritional values.

Cultivation and trade data

Sorghum represents 3% of the global cereals production, according to Sorghum ID.

Some 50% of the global production of the crop is targeted at food use, especially in Africa and South Asia, while 45% of production is for feed, mostly in developed countries, and the rest is used for bioenergy, in Germany in particular.

The trade of sorghum has doubled over the last 10 years, with increase in demand for feed use from countries such as China.

The EU production is only 0.7 million tons, and is mainly based in France and Italy. Italy and Spain are the largest users, with imports from third countries like Ukraine and Russia and more recently from Sudan, noted Sorghum ID.

Sorghum benefits for livestock 

At that platform’s first board meeting in January this year, Arnaud Bouxin, deputy secretary general of EU feed industry trade group, FEFAC, said that although sorghum has not been used to a significant degree in feed in Europe, its greater take-up in animal diets could help to address the challenges faced by the EU agriculture and livestock sectors.  

As sorghum’s digestible energy is relatively high, it is a raw material very well adapted to pig feed, said Sorghum ID, citing examples of where sorghum is included in pig diets in Spain, sometimes up to inclusion levels of 50%.

Several research projects are going on to better characterize the nutritional value of sorghum and variability across EU countries and to assess its nutritional value for poultry.

Sorghum ID says it believes Europe has everything it takes to develop sorghum further as a crop; it said the cereal has a relatively short vegetation period; it is able to take root in all types of soils, has a low fertilizer demand and is able to adjust to climate change.

“By diversifying their crop production thanks to sorghum, growers can enjoy an additional crop with multiple benefits in the face of unpredictable events such as climate, parasite onset, fluctuation in raw materials prices.”

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