Grain sorghum, it’s what’s for breakfast.
Glenn Schur, Plainview, Texas, grain and cotton producer, says the food grade grain sorghum, Onyx, he grew for the first time last year could offer new opportunities for Southwest farmers looking for alternative crops and new markets.
Currently, food-grade sorghum accounts for only 2 percent of the grain sorghum grown in the United States, but it’s an important niche market that could grow, Schur says.
“It’s a high-value crop and I think we have an opportunity for more acreage in the Southwest. This could be a 10 million to 15 million pound market.”
Currently, the food-grade sorghum Schur grows goes into four Grain Berry cereals distributed by Silver Palate of New Jersey. He sends his grain to the ADM facility in Dodge City, Kansas. Several Texas food store chains currently carry the cereal, United Supermarkets and H.E.B., Schur said. Silver Palate is negotiating with others.
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“The cereal is good,” he says. “It’s not all laced with sugar.” Two of the cereals are similar to popular round-shaped oat cereals. A honey nut product and bran flakes are also available.
In addition to cereal, the sorghum also goes into brownie, pancake and muffin mixes.
Schur says the black sorghum flour offers several health benefits. It’s gluten free and also has high anti-oxidant levels. “Food-grade sorghum has a different kind of anti-oxidant than in typical grain sorghum.” Tannin level is also higher.
“It is kinda nice to see a cereal in the grocery store and know that I grew the grain in it,” he says.
The black sorghum was developed by Texas A&M breeder Bill Rooney.
“Yield is not as good as (conventional) grain sorghum,” Schur says. “It is a shorter season hybrid. But the market is different. Food-grade sorghum is a higher value product and we get a premium.”
He grows Onyx on contract for use in cereal and the other products. “I sell 100 percent of my Onyx sorghum to Grain Berry,” he says.
Last year was his first experience with the black-seeded sorghum. “I will grow more this year. I just got the seed delivered.”
Production practices are no different from the other sorghum he grows and rotates with cotton. He follows the same weed and insect control strategies, using herbicides and insecticides judiciously. “We’re using a lot fewer chemicals today than we were ten or 20 years ago. I think we do things better than we used to. We are more conscientious about what we do and it makes economic sense. We follow the label.”
Schur said he’s careful with harvest of the food-grade sorghum, but he’s also careful with the seed sorghum he grows. “We’re geared up to take precautions at harvest,” he said. “We want to assure a quality product (seed or food grade), so we have to be careful at harvest.”
All of his Onyx sorghum will be irrigated. “I planted in early June last year and will probably do that again. It’s a fast-growing hybrid.”
Lindsay West, External Affairs Director and editor of the Sorghum Grower Magazine for the National Sorghum Producers, says the industry could witness a growth in grain sorghum production for the food industry. “We see more consumer interest in buying whole grains and there are health advantages.”
She said a Texas A&M research scientist said the anti-oxidant characteristics offer several benefits, including reduced cancer risk as well as effects on several digestive ailments.
In other reports, Rooney has indicated that Onyx “would be suitable for the cereal market. You could grind this and turn it into flour for food use. You could also take the bran to concentrate the antioxidants in this form; there are a lot of potential applications for this.”
Schur says food-grade grain sorghum fits well into his grain/cotton rotation. He likes to have grain in the mix to provide residue and improve soil health. He says the old-crop grain residue holds moisture, adds organic matter to the soil and prevents soil from blowing with winter and springtime wind storms.
It’s also a good deal with available contracts and to see the product in a nearby grocery store.