SORGHUM: A CEREAL OF THE FUTURE
January 28, 2021
WHAT EXPLAINS THE EXCEPTIONAL DYNAMICS OF THIS LITTLE SEED THAT IS RISING?
In 2020, the area planted with sorghum increased by 18% in the European Union (source: Sorghum ID). This increase applies to both grain sorghum (+20%) and fodder sorghum (+12%). Lidea has supported this dynamic from the start, by participating in the first European research programme. 20% of the areas sown with sorghum in Europe use Lidea varieties. How can this exceptional dynamic be explained? Spotlight on a cereal with a future.
Originating in Africa, sorghum is the 5th main cereal in the world (with 49 million hectares of production), after corn, wheat, rice and barley. At the global level, 50% of the sorghum area is in Africa, but it is also grown in the United States, where the area planted with sorghum has increased considerably, in Argentina, India, China and Australia. In short, on all five continents.
In Europe, production has exceeded half a million hectares. The dynamic is therefore significant and is being confirmed. Russia is positioning itself as the largest producer on the European continent, followed by France where in 2020 there were 122,000 hectares of sorghum. France is also the country with the strongest dynamic (a particularly strong upward trend over the last three years).
Sorghum is booming: with low water consumption, it has many uses, from animal feed to human food.
Sorghum is gaining ground in Europe primarily because it is a cereal that adapts very well to climate change: it has low input and water requirements. It has low input and water requirements, so has high drought tolerance.
Secondly, it allows farmers to secure production, ensuring crop rotation diversification. Sorghum can be an advantageous alternative crop when regular production is affected by bad weather conditions or pests. For livestock farmers, it is also a means of ensuring fodder supplies.
In addition, the end uses of sorghum are many and varied. Processors are beginning to appreciate grain sorghum for the many qualities of its grain. Rich in protein and with a good energy value, grain sorghum is popular for animal feed, which represents its main market in Europe: it is widely used in poultry and fish farming and is also a component of livestock feed. For example, in terms of its use as animal feed, Catalonia is the largest importer of grain sorghum as pig feed. In Hungary, 90% of grain sorghum is used for animal feed. The qualities of the seed limit the risk of the rancid taste that can sometimes be found in the cured hams we eat. Rich in iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B9 and known for its antioxidant qualities, it is also used for human food, for example to produce popped sorghum, flakes, milk and pasta. In Africa, sorghum seeds are commonly consumed in flour or semolina; they are also used in traditional gluten-free beers. Almost 60% of sorghum production across the continent is used for human consumption. In China, sorghum seeds are used to produce a spirit, Baijiu, in this case appreciated for its high starch content. Whisky and vodka are also beginning to be produced from sorghum. Lidea is behind this type of initiative in Hungary, with a local whisky producer. Moldova has been producing vodka from grain sorghum for the past two years.
Fodder sorghum is used in various forms: as silage, biomass or for grazing. With a stalk naturally rich in sugar, it is used for livestock and enables improved silage preservation. It is also used in the production of bioenergy such as bioethanol (1 tonne of grain sorghum can be used to produce 400 litres of ethanol) or methane. One hectare of sorghum can produce approximately 7,000m3 of biogas. Finally, biomass sorghum, rich in fibre, can be used in the manufacture of biomaterials, dyes or plastics.
Last but not least, sorghum is constantly being improved genetically. Lidea, as part of EUROSORGHO (the leading European programme for the creation of sorghum varieties), benefits from the leading European research with a very diversified and high-performance range as both grain and fodder. In the southern half of France, for more than 3 years now ES MONSOON and ES SHAMAL have been the highest performing varieties in terms of yield/precocity in the ARVALIS post-registration trials, as well as ES FOEHN, the sorghum variety most sown in Europe.
Moreover, in Europe, sorghum enjoys a good social image: it can adapt to the constraints of climate change and responds to consumers’ desire to taste new products.
Lidea, at the heart of this dynamic
Lidea, as a pioneer, began sorghum breeding in the 1980s with the Euralis Semences brand, then created EUROSORGHO, a joint venture with Semences de Provence to initiate the first European research programme. “In the countries where we are present, Euralis Semences is now recognised as a sorghum expert: for its genetics, of course, but also for its knowledge of the crop, its ability to support farmers and its expertise in working with processors,” explains Frédéric Guedj, Sorghum Market Development Manager.
The dynamic is reflected in the figures. For example, sales of Lidea sorghum seed in Europe rose by 60% in the last financial year and this growth is expected to continue in 2021. A key example is in Hungary, where the total area planted with grain sorghum has increased by 40% compared to 2019, and the area planted with fodder sorghum has increased by 35%. Lidea, as a major player in the Hungarian market, has a 70% market share in grain sorghum.
“The erratic weather during the sowing period for winter crops certainly convinced some farmers: drought, followed by very rainy periods, prevented them from sowing straw cereals and rapeseed. Sorghum emerged as an excellent back-up, particularly in constrained situations,” comments Nicolas Arangoïs, South-West Region Field Developer at Lidea. “I believe in the future of sorghum: the market has been growing for the last three years, the manufacturers are more and more in demand and the outlets are multiplying.
TESTIMONIES FROM FARMERS: why they grow sorghum
Some farmers, who were pioneers at the time, have been growing sorghum for almost 30 years! Bernard Ader, member of the board of directors of the Euralis Group, a farmer south of Toulouse, is one of them. “Sorghum and me, it’s a long story! My father grew it 32 years ago,” explains Bernard. “This helped to partially resolve the drought problems that the farm was facing. When a technician, who had an innovative approach at the time, offered sorghum to my father, he rapidly launched himself into the business, and on considerable areas. From the outset, there was a market in animal feed. Over time, different varieties were tested to improve balance, with an immediate yield effect. In the 2000s, we switched to grain sorghum and took advantage of the successive genetic improvements made to the seeds. Today, the ones we use – ES SHAMAL, ES MONSOON, ES ALIZE and ES FOEHN – are very well suited to our terroir. We have stabilised our area – 20 hectares – and we have completely stopped growing corn. The two crops are worth the same in terms of profit margin.
And sorghum allows for crop rotation. It’s a bit like the crop version of a four-wheel drive: it’s well suited to heterogeneous plots, remains relatively easy to harvest and doesn’t require specific equipment. You just have to make sure you weed properly, respect a certain density, pay attention to fertilisation and harvest at the right stage. But after a period of adaptation, you get used to this crop, which is certainly different to corn. And the yields are satisfactory. All of our sorghum is sold for animal feed. I have great faith in the development of new, more noble outlets, especially for human food. That’s what will add value to this crop of the future and convince an ever-increasing number of farmers to start growing it”.
TESTIMONY FROM A PRODUCER IN THE LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY
Ferenc Kurucz raises 130,000 pigs and cultivates 3,200 hectares of land, split between Romania and Hungary. He has incorporated sorghum into his rotation for agronomic reasons since it allows him to better exploit land with low potential. Very rapidly, he has started to appreciate all the nutritional qualities sorghum offers in pork
production. The high nutritional value of this cereal has been proven. “In the feed rations of our 130,000 pork pigs, we have replaced some of the corn with sorghum because sorghum has almost the same nutritional composition as corn: a little higher in amino acids, a little lower in energy. In addition, sorghum is an economically interesting crop with agronomic qualities because it grows on difficult land.”
Discover the press release by clicking here.
EURALIS Semences and CAUSSADE Semences Group formalised their alliance on 1 September 2020 by creating Lidea. As one of the world’s top 10 global field crop seed companies, Lidea has expertise in the entire value chain from breeding, to seed production in the field and the marketing of finished products.
In proximity to our ecosystem, Lidea creates and provides customised, sustainable seed solutions (corn, sunflower, cereals, rapeseed, fodder, plant cover, soybean, sorghum, pulses) that generate added value for producers throughout the year.
With a turnover of 350 million euros, and more than 30 million euros devoted each year to industrial and R&D investments, Lidea has a sustainable and respectful vision of supporting tomorrow’s agriculture today.
OUR INNOVATIONS & CONCEPTS PRODUCTS
CLEARFIELD® PLUS EURALIS, for a successful weed control without orobanche
Clearfield® Plus is a new generation of Clearfield® Plus herbicide tolerant sunflower. This technology provides farmers with new solutions to control weeds and the orobanche pest while benefiting from economic, time and yield gain with Euralis varieties.