Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench
Sorghum, Milo, Broomcorn, Durra, Karrir-corn, Guinea-corn, Shattercane
Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
Though sorghum is used largely for forage in the US, it is very important in
the world's human diet, with over 300 million people dependent on it (Bukantis,
1980). Grown for grain, forage, syrup and sugar, and industrial uses of stems
and fibers. Grain sorghum is a staple cereal in hot dry tropics, the threshed
grain ground into a wholesome flour. Stalks used as animal feed. Important
summer fodder where temperatures are high and rainfall insufficient for corn.
Most important for silage or green soiling, or for hay when grown irrigated in
very dry areas. Pearled grain cooked like rice or ground into flour. Sorghum,
with large juicy stems containing as much as 10% sucrose, used in manufacture
of syrup; sugar can be manufactured from sorghum. Broomcorn used for making
brooms. The seed is used as food, in brewing "kiffir beer", the kiffir corn
malt and cornmeal is fermented to make Leting (a sour mash), the pith is
eaten, and the sweet culm chewed (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Arubans
make porridge and muffins from sorghum meal. Parched seed are used as coffee
substitutes or adulterants (Morton, 1981).
Reported to be antiabortive, cyanogenetic, demulcent, diuretic, emollient,
intoxicant, and poison, sorghum is a folk remedy for cancer, epilepsy, flux,
and stomachache (Duke and Wain, 1981). The root is used for malaria in
southern Rhodesia; the seed has been used for breast disease and diarrhea; the
stem for tubercular swellings. In India, the plant is considered anthelminthic
and insecticidal, and in South Africa, in combination with Erigeron
canadense L., it is used for eczema (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). In
China, where the seeds are used to make alcohol, the seed husk is braised in
brown sugar with a little water and applied to the chest of measles patients.
The stomachic seeds are considered beneficial in fluxes (Perry, 1980).
According to Morton (1981) Curacao natives drink the leaf decoction for
measles, grinding the seeds with those of the calabash tree (Cresentia)
for lung ailments. Venezuelans toast and pulverize the seeds for diarrhea.
Brazilians decoct the seed for bronchitis, cough and other chest ailments,
possibly using the ash for goiter. Arubans poultice hot oil packs of the seeds
on the back of those suffering pulmonary congestion. According to Grieve's
Herbal (1931), a decoction of ca 50 g seed to a liter of water is boiled down
to ca 1/2 liter as a folk medication for kidney and urinary complaints.
Per 100 g, the seed is reported to contain 342 calories, 12.0 g H2O, 10.0 g
protein, 3.7 g fat, 72.7 g total carbohydrate, 2.2 g fiber, 1.5 g ash, 22 mg
Ca, 242 mg P, 3.8 mg Fe, 8 mg Na, 44 mg K, 0 mg b-carotene equivalent, 0.33
mg thiamine, 0.18 mg riboflavin, 3.90 mg niacin, and 0 mg ascorbic acid (Wu
Leung et al, 1972). Seeds contain butyric-, formic-, myristic-, palmitic-, and
stearic-acids, maltose, emulsine, and are rather rich in vitamin B (Perry,
1980). Cultivars with highly pigmented seeds are rich in condensed catechin
tannin and other phenols (anthocyanins); these are usually the darker bird-,
insect-, and/or fungus-resistant cvs. (Morton, 1981). Protein contains no
gluten and flour does not make good bread unless mixed with other cereals.
Based on 1046 analyses, Miller (1958) reported that the DM ranges from
71.096.3%, averaging 89.0%. On a zero-moisture basis, CP ranges from
8.716.8% (mean of 1160 cases, 12.5%), EE from 1.46.1 (mean of 1159, 3.4%), CF
from 0.413.4 (mean of 1085 cases, 2.7%), ash from 1.27.1% (mean of 1133,
2.2%), and 65.385.3% NFE (mean 79.2%); Ca from 0.010.53% (mean of 227 cases,
0.05%), P from 0.100.52% (mean of 235 cases, 0.35%), Cu 219 ppm (mean of 38
cases = 11), K from 0.280.50% (mean of 16 cases, 0.38%), Mg from 0.020.25%
(mean of 23 cases = 0.19), Fe from 0.0000.018% (mean of 44 cases = 0.005%),
and Mn from 027 ppm (mean of 42 cases 16 ppm), S from 0.150.21% (mean of 6 =
0.18%), Na from 0.010.09% (mean of 9 = 0.05%), Cl from 0.070.14 (mean of 7
cases = 0.10%), Co from 0.040.73 ppm (mean of 22 cases = 0.3), Zn from 1219
ppm (mean of 2 = 15), 1.38.8 ppm thiamin (mean of 50 cases = 4.6), 0.45.7 ppm
riboflavin (mean of 168 cases = 1.5), 3.324.2 ppm pantothenic acid (mean of
165 = 125), 19.492.6 ppm niacin (mean of 171 cases = 48.4), 2.210.3 ppm
pyridoxine (mean of 46 = 5.9), 528953 ppm chorine (mean of 13 = 761), and
0.25.1 ppm carotene (mean of 66 cases = 1.3). Palmer and Bowden (1975) report
more than 20 4-demethylsterols, 4-monomethylsterols, and triterpenes. Of 254
analyses of dry roughage, DM ranged from 62.894.3% (mean 85.5%). On a zero
moisture basis, the dry roughage contained 3.017.9% CP (mean of 256 = 7.9),
1.43.8% EE (mean of 256 = 2.5), 17.338.1% CF (mean of 256 = 26.1), 4.618.6%
ash (mean of 546 = 8.5%), and 41.067.8% NFE (mean 55.0), 0.20.8% K (mean of
14 = 1.41%), 0.210.4% Mg (mean of 15 = 0.3%), 0.005% Fe, 40150 ppm Mn (mean
of 8115), 0.510.74% Cl (mean of 3 = 0.63). One Egyptian variety yields a red
dye stuff containing durastantalin (C16H12O5), quercemetrin, a flavanol, and a
crystalline substance resembling pyrocatechol has been isolated from the grain
(Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Plants yield 27.8% pentosan, valued in
furfural manufacture. Culms may contain 3 ppm ascorbic acid.
Sorghum contains hydrocyanic acid and the alkaloid hordenine. Sometimes plants
accumulate toxic levels of nitrate (Morton, 1981). Varieties differ
considerably in HCN poisonings. Danger is slight when grain is nearly mature.
Young plants and suckers are dangerous, particularly when suffering from
drought. HCN is destroyed when fodder is ensiled or cured as hay. Varieties
vary in recovery with rotational grazing or frequent moving, as well as in
quality and in HCN content. Kaffir-corn grain is edible, but the plant is
toxic to stock, especially when wilted, due to HCN (523,000 ppm) and the
cyanogenic glucoside durrin (C14H17O7N). In India the intoxication is
known as jowar poisoning. Plants may contain 0.07% of the alkaloid hordenine.
Summer annual, coarse, erect with much variability in growth characteristics;
culms solid or sometimes with spaces in pith, 0.65 m tall, depending on
variety and growing conditions, 5 to over 30 mm in diameter, either dry at
maturity or with sweet insipid juice; leaves broad and coarse, similar in shape
to those of corn but shorter and wider; blades glabrous and waxy; sheaths
encircle culm and have overlapping margins; panicle erect, sometimes recurved,
usually compact in most grain sorghums and more open in forage types; seed
covered by glumes that may or may not be removed by threshing; prop roots may
grow from culm nodes; bud at each node from which a tiller may grow; seeds
white, yellow, red, or brown; panicle with up to 6,000 spikelets. Seeds 25,000
to 61,740/kg; grass sorghum 120,000 to 159,000/kg.
Reported from the China-Japan, Hindustani and Mediteranean Centers of
Diversity, sorghum, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate alkali,
anthracnose, disease, drought, fungus, herbicide, high pH, heat, insects,
laterite, low pH, mildew, poor soil, rust, salt, savanna, virus, weeds, and
waterlogging (Duke, 1978). An important warm-season annual, developed by
crossing cytoplasmic male-sterile sorghum lines with improved cvs of
sudangrass. Numerous cvs have been developed including grain sorghums, sweet
sorghums, and broomcorns, some of which have been referred to various different
species and subspecies. `NB-280S', developed in Nebraska, has good seedling
vigor and rapid regrowth vigor, stem size and leaf width larger than in true
sudangrass but less than in some sorghum x sudan hybrids, low HCN at pasture
stage, yields equal to or better than standard sudangrass varieties, lodging
may be a problem if crop is grown for silage. 'Suhi 1', developed in Georgia,
has wide leaves, rather dry stems, and good seedling vigor, rapid regrowth up
to 4 m when allowed to mature, adapted to most areas where sudangrass is grown,
good disease resistance; at maturity dark seeds have reddish-brown to black
glumes; because of high HCN potential, should be grazed with caution. Many
other cvs developed especially for climatic and use conditions. As Duke
(1982a) reports, this was the most dramatic case in which his data base (Duke,
1978) was used to select germplasm for a marginal environment. Skepticism of
reported high pH in Duke's table prompted inquiries. The computer selected, in
answer to the skepticism, 14 reports of sorghum at pH > 7.5. Inquiries to
10 of these produced 4 lots of seeds, two iron-efficient, which would grow well
at pH > 8.0. (2n = 20)
Main center of distribution of cultivated sorghums is in Africa, having been
cultivated in Ethiopia for more than 5,000 years; possibly cultivated sorghums
were also developed independently in India and China. Forage sorghums
introduced in United States about 1850. Now sorghums are widely distributed
throughout tropics, subtropics, and warm temperate areas of the world.
Ranging from Cool Temperate Steppe to Wet through Tropical Thorn to Wet Forest
Life Zones, sorghum is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 2.0 to 41.0
(mean of 86 cases = 10.9), annual temperature of 7.8 to 27.8°C (mean of 86
cases = 20.1), and pH of 4.3 to 8.7 (mean of 69 cases = 6.7). Adapted to
tropical and subtropical summer rainfall climate with rainfall from 25125 cm
annually; of little importance in more humid areas with higher rainfall. Some
cvs are short-day plants. Adapted to wide range of soils varying from light
loams to heavy clays; thrives best on light, easily worked soils of high
fertility, with moderate to high available water, with erosion not a problem.
Moderately well-drained soils are suitable for sorghums. Small amounts of
alkali in sand reduces performance considerably. Tolerance to salinity is
moderate. Prefers moderately acid soil; pH down to 5.7 does not drastically
In dry-land conditions, seed normally sown in rows 75100 cm apart at rate of
39 kg/ha; higher seed rates used for more humid areas. In good rainfall or
under irrigation, seed should be close drilled or broadcast at rate of 2035
kg/ha, this resulting in more leaf and less heavy stems, also obviating
weeding. Seeds germinate best between 2030°C, with poorer germination
higher or lower. Seeded in rows like corn in most areas. Seeding may be as
early as March, as in southern Texas; but date of planting depends on use for
which crop is intended. In tropics, sorghums may be planted nearly anytime.
Crop sown on well-prepared, firm, moist seedbed. Seed planted to depth of
1.55 cm depending on soil texture and moisture. Compact soil if dry! Seeding
before soil temperature at 10 cm reaches 1213°C can be injurious. Later or
multiple plantings are often made to equalize forage production throughout the
season. In subtropical climates, seeding in late summer or early fall may also
be made. Sorghum hybrids are rather sensitive to low pH and low P and K
availability. Generally fertilizer with 3060 kg/ha P and 60120 kg/ha K is
used. Good responses of N fertilizer up to 200 kg/ha have been obtained.
Rotational or strip grazing is practiced. Non-tillering cvs are usually spaced
1014 cm apart in rows, whereas profuse tillering varieties are spaced 3045 cm
apart. Weed control by chemicals or mechanical means important as crop grows
slowly in early stages. Cultivate or harrow once after plant emergence and
later as required; usually 13 cultivations necessary in tropics. Shallow
cultivation essential to prevent damage to surface roots. Constant roguing
necessary of off-type plants before flowering for both open pollinated and
hybrid seed production. (Reed, 1976)
Greatest dry matter yields are obtained at maturity, or when stems are 80120
cm tall, such heights are suitable for hay, silage, and green chop; best grazed
at 2030 cm height; best regrowth when 1015 cm stubble left. Some sorghum cvs
are very productive, yielding more DM than corn. Cut when grain is in dough
stage, and feeding value of fodder is at maximum. Harvesting for green chop or
silage is well-suited to mechanical harvesting due to bulk and mass involved.
Sorghum for silage should be harvested when seeds are in milk to dough stage.
When used for hay, 25 harvests may be made per season, each with a potential
yield of 2MT/ha or more. Hay is difficult to cure because of the thick culms,
requiring several days in sunshine. A forage crusher helps reduce the time.
Pasturing is cheapest method of harvesting forage. For seed, crop is cut by
hand or mower, smaller dwarf types combined. If cut by hand, heads dried in
heaps on ground or on threshing floor. If entire plant is cut by hand or
binder, it should be stooked and left in field to dry and mature for 1014
days, and then threshed. Seed stored at 1213% moisture or less. Freshly
harvested seed may show dormancy. Hard textured seed may be scarified to
Seed yields may be as low as 200 kg/ha, or as high as 6,000 kg/ha, depending on
cv and growing conditions; below 2,000 kg/ha considered not profitable.
Average forage yields for silage; Sorgo, 'Start', 54.3 MT/ha; 'Honey', 48
MT/Iha; 'Atlas', 42 MT/ha; Sorgo hybrids, 43.471.4 MT/ha. (Reed, 1976)
Sorghum is the fourth most important world cereal grain, following wheat, rice,
and corn. Worldwide, grain sorghum is grown on more than 40 million hectares,
especially in China, India, and Africa. Grain sorghum hybrids are becoming
increasingly available to American farmers as the result of discovery of
cytoplasmic male sterility in 1952. There is 3030% efficiency in production.
About 7.3 mil. ha of sorghums grown in US, about 25% grown for forage and 75%
for grain and seed. It is most important in the Great Plains and southern US
for silage, pasture, and soilage. Dibb (1983) compares US yields of 3,300
kg/ha with 900 kg/ha in the developing countries and a reported world record of
21,500 kg/ha. In 1979 the world low production yield figure was 260 kg/ha
grain in Botswana, the international production yield, 1,322 kg/ha, and the
high, 5,326 kg/ha in Spain (FAO, 1980a). Logsdon (1974) states that a good
sorghum acre will produce 400 gallons of syrup (ca 25 barrels/ha). At $3 to $4
per gallon, this makes a nice sideline income for the small farmer.
Sorghums are high on the priority list of energy crops. The genus Sorghum
includes grain sorghums noted for their ability to grow in dry climates and to
manufacture starch efficiently. Sweet sorghums noted for their high yields of
directly fermentable stalk sugars and their ability to grow anywhere that corn
or soybeans grow, and sweet-stemmed grain sorghums which are crosses of grain
sorghum with sweet sorghum and which combine the characteristics of the two
types. Sorghum-based ethanol has a favorable energy input-output ratio.
Because the stalk residues can be used for fuel and sorghums require less
fertilizer than does corn. The directly fermentable sugars in the stalk
present a challenge in that they are unstable compared with starch. Whether
sweet sorghum and sweet-stemmed grain sorghum can become viable energy crops
will depend on solving this serious seasonality problem. Processing facilities
must be large enough to handle the entire crop in a matter of weeks, and the
conversion to ethanol or other energy products must be spread out over a
sufficient time period to keep unit capital investment low. Integrated systems
are under development to solve the seasonality problem, e.g., (1) integration
of sorghum crops with sugarcane agriculture in the south and of corn
agriculture in the north, (2) integrated processing and conversion of the stalk
sugars and grain from sorghum or other crops, (3) ethanol production from
sorghum's simple carbohydrates and from its lignocellulose (Lipinsky and
Kresovich, 1980). The harvest index (HI) of cereals in general is ca 0.36,
meaning that 64% of total above ground crop production is residue, at least 1/3
of which should be left in the field. 'Prior' barley has the HI ranging from
0.48 to 0.41 with increasing N fertilizer levels. Wheat usually runs about
0.30 to 0.35 HI. Rice often has a high HI, while grain sorghum generally has a
low HI. The 'Green Revolution' cereals with short straw and high grain yields
have relatively high HI. The estimated cost of ethanol and reethanol from
cereal grains is $0.35 per liter and $0.16 per liter; the overall energy
efficiency, i.e. the ratio of the energy value of the gross liquid fuel output
to the total energy impute including feedstocks is 0.34 for ethanol and 0.40
for reethanol. For each ton of ethanol produced from cereal grains, there is
another ton of dry distiller's residue, valued in the US as animal feed
(Stewart et al, 1979). DM yields of 1315 MT are reported in one Brazilian
study, 1417 in a US study, 2428 MT in Iraq (just stalks) (Gill et al, 1977),
2.515 in Oklahoma (Denman, 1975), 12 MT in Cuba (Menendez and Martinez, 1980),
68 in India (Itnal et al., 1980), 1433 in Louisiana (Ricaud et al., 1981).
Sorghum, at 32 MT/ha stem and 3 MT grain, will give 3 to 4,000 liters alcohol
per ha (Coombs and Vlitos, 1978). K.C. Freeman estimates 12502000 gallons per
hectare (Ag. Research, July 1981). The grain itself could be sold for uses
other than alcohol production because it provides only ca 5% of alcohol
production (i.e. in sweet sorghum). Sugars in the stalks provide about 80% of
the alcohol and those in stalk fibers about 15%. In Louisiana, Ricaud et al.
(1981) reported 1070 to 1635 gallons per hectare, equalling ca 2540 barrels
ethanol per ha. According to Bukantis (1980), the energy output:input ratio
for grain sorghum is ca 4:1 in non-irrigated fields in Kansas, ca 1:1 in
irrigated fields, 4.5:1 in rainfed fields in Nebraska, 35:1 in irrigated
fields, 3:1 in rainfed fields in Texas, 1.5:1 in irrigated fields of Texas,
37:1 in manual-labor fields in Sudan but only 1:1 in draft-animal production in
Nigeria (I suspect they calculate feed for the oxen but no food for the man to
make the big difference here). According to Pal and Malik (1981)
Azospirillum brasilense contributed 5.819.6 kg N/ha to N uptake of cv
CSH-5. Grain yields were 1,167 kg/ha without fertilizer, 1,780 kg/ha with
inoculation with Azospirillum, 2,048 kg/ha with 10 tons FYM, and 2,435
kg/ha with FYM and inoculation. The straw factor is calculated at 1, the chaff
factor at 0.25. Forage sorghum is a promising energy source. Forage sorghum
in the 120-day growing season of California showed a mean growth rate of 23
g/m2/day for production of 27.6 MT/ha; in an 83-day growing season
in Australia, the growth rate was 17 g/m2/day, for total production
of 14.1 MT/ha (Boardman, 1980).
Major diseases reported on sorghums include the following: Cercospora
sorghi, Colletotrichum graminicola (Anthracnose of leaves and stems),
Helminthosporium turcicum (leaf blight), Macrophomina phaseoli
(charcoal rot), Periconia circinata (milo disease), Phyllachora
sorghi, Phyllosticta sorghi, Puccinis purpurea (rust), Ramulispora
sorghi (sooty strip), Sclerospora sorghi (downy mildew),
Sorosporium ehrenbergii, Sphacelia sorghi, Sphacelotheca sorghi (coverd
smut), Sph. cruenta (loose smut), Sph. reiliana (head smut).
Plants are also severely attacked by various species of Striga (S.
lutea, S. hermontheca, S. senegalensis, S. densiflora). Nematodes isolated
from sorghum include the following species: Helicotylenchus cavenessi, H.
dihystera, H. pseudorobustus, Hoplolaimus pararobustus, Meloidogyne
javanica, Peltamigratus nigeriensis, Pratylenchus brachyurus, P. zeae,
Quinisulcius acutus, Rotylenchulus reniformis, Scutellonema cavenessi, S.
clathricaudatum, Tylenchorhynchus acutus, and T. parvus.
Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
- Boardman, N.K. 1980. Energy from the biological conversion of solar energy.
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. London A 295:477489.
- Bukantis, R. 1980. Energy inputs in sorghum production. p. 103108. In:
Pimentel, D. (ed.), Handbook of energy utilization in agriculture. CRC Press,
Inc. Boca Raton, FL.
- Coombs, J. and Vlitos, A.J. 1978. An assessment of the potential for biological
solar energy utilization using carbohydrates produced by higher plant
photosynthesis as chemical feedstock. vol. 2. Proc. Internat. Solar Energy
Society Congress, New Delhi, India. Pergamon Press, New York.
- Denman, C.E. 1975. Sorghum cultural practices and variety-environment
interaction studies. Res. Rep. Ag. Exp. Sta., OSU P-728.
- Dibb, D.W. 1983. Agronomic systems to feed the next generation. Crops and Soils
- Duke, J.A. 1978. The quest for tolerant germplasm. p. 161. In: ASA Special
Symposium 32, Crop tolerance to suboptimal land conditions. Am. Soc. Agron.
- Duke, J.A. 1982a. Plant germplasm resources for breeding of crops adapted to
marginal environments. chap. 12. In: Christiansen, M.N. and Lewis, C.F. (eds.),
Breeding plants for less favorable environments. Wiley-Interscience, John Wiley
& Sons. New York.
- Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index
with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
- FAO. 1980a. 1979. Production yearbook. vol. 33. FAO, Rome.
- Gill, P.S., Tahir, S.M., Al-Younis, A.H., and Younis, M.A. 1977. Preliminary
studies on the cultivation of sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench)
for the production of sugar in Iraq. Iraqi J. Agr. Sci. 12:39.
- Grieve, M. 1931. A modern herbal. Reprint 1974. Hafner Press, New York.
- Itnal, C.J., Desai, G.S., Sajjan, G.C., and Parvatikar, S.R. 1980. Effect of
supplemental nitrogen on the plant characters, grain and fodder yield of rabi
sorghum under dryland conditions. Current Research 9(2):2426.
- Lipinsky, E.S. and Kresovich, S. 1980. Sorghums as energy crops. Proceedings,
Bio-Energy '80. World Congress and Exposition. April 2124, 1980. Atlanta, GA.
Washington, DC; The Bio-Energy Council. p. 9193.
- Logsdon, G. 1974. Sweet sorghumfour foods in one. Organic Gardening and
- Menendez, J. and Martinez, J.F. 1980. Behaviour of legumes intercropped
with forage sorghum. Pastos y Forrajes 3(1):83100.
- Miller, D.F. 1958. Composition of cereal grains and forages. National Academy
of Sciences, National Research Council, Washington, DC. Publ. 585.
- Morton, J.F. 1981. Atlas of medicinal plants of middle America. Bahamas to
Yucatan. C.C. Thomas, Springfield, IL.
- Pal, U.R. and Malik, H.S. 1981. Contribution of Azospirillum brasilense
to the nitrogen needs of grain sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] in
humid sub-tropics. Plant and Soil 63(3):501504.
- Palmer, M.A. and Bowden, B.N. 1975. The sterols and triterpenes of Sorghum
vulgare grains. Phytochemistry 14(9):20492053.
- Perry, L.M. 1980. Medicinal plants of east and southeast Asia. MIT Press,
- Reed, C.F. 1976. Information summaries on 1000 economic plants. Typescripts
submitted to the USDA.
- Ricaud, R., Martin, F.A., and Cochran, B.J. 1981. Sweet sorghum for biomass and
alcohol production. Louisiana Agr. 24(4):1819.
- Stewart, G.A., Gartside, G., Gifford, R.M., Nix, H.A., Rawlins, W.H.M., and
Siemon, J.R. 1979. The potential for liquid fuels from agriculture and forestry
in Australia. CSIRO. Alexander Bros., Mentone, Victoria, Australia.
- Watt, J.M. and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants
of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd ed. E.&S. Livingstone, Ltd., Edinburgh
- Wu Leung, Woot-Tsuen, Butrum, R.R., and Chang, F.H. 1972. Part I. Proximate
composition mineral and vitamin contents of east Asian foods. In: Food
composition table for use in east Asia. FAO & U.S. Dept. HEW.
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw