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Sweet Sorghum

Gramineae Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench

Source: Magness et al. 1971

Sorgo or sweet sorghums are plants grown primarily as a source of syrup although they also may be used as silage or for hay. They are closely related to sorghums grown for silage, hay or grain but are characterized by containing an abundance of sweet juice in the stems. The plants are perennial in warm climates but in continental United States they winter kill in most areas, so are grown as annuals. Some sorgo for syrup is grown in most states except the far north, but major production is in areas adapted to growing of cotton.

Sorgo is of Old World origin and been long cultivated in Africa and in Southern Asia. The culture is quite similar to that corn. Seeding should be delayed until the soil is warm.Then the seeds are planted in well prepared soil in rows about 3 feet apart. The initial stem forms branches or tilers at underground nodes so a clump of several stems forms from a single seed. Stems in different varieties reach from 8 to 12 feet or more in height under good growing conditions and an inch or more in diameter. A long, slender leaf rises from each node, with the leaf base or sheath encircling the stem. Stalks terminate in a panicle containing the flowers and later the seeds.

Harvesting for syrup production is best done as soon as the seed becomes hard and ripe. The interval from planting to harvest may range from around100 days up to near 200 - depending on such factors as variety, earliness of planting, and growing season temperature. Most sorghum for syrup is grown on small acreages-generally less than an acre per farm - and hand methods are used in harvesting. Leaves are hand stripped from the standing stalks by beating or by cuttingcut at ground level. Crushing the stems for extraction of the juice, and preparation of the syrup from the juice are the same as described for cane syrup production.

Recent data on sorghum syrup production are not available. For the 5-year period 1956-60, inclusive, it averaged 2,524,000 gallons but was declining and has probably been less than 2,000,000 gallon recently. All is used as food. Leaves and tops removed from the stems may be fed to livestock on the farm, but do not enter commerce.