Ranking crops that qualify as super foods as well as wealth creating plants, sorghum comes among the top grades. Sorghum is a multipurpose cereal crop whose market value and industry potential is constantly increasing. As food, it is rich in numerous healthy nutrients and also serves as livestock feed as well as providing brewing industry with a major raw material. Other names for sorghum include millet and guinea corn.
Sorghum is a global crop and in Nigeria, it thrives in states like Adamawa, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Niger, Taraba, Sokoto, Katsina, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kebbi, Bauchi and Jigawa where the arid and semi-arid temperatures are perfect for its cultivation. There are four main types of the crop, namely sweet sorghum, biomass sorghum, grain sorghum and forage sorghum, but Nigeria cultivates the type of sorghum used for food, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages.
Health benefits of sorghum
Increases circulation: The grains and canes of sorghum contain high iron levels which can improve the circulatory system and boost red blood cell development, stimulating cellular growth and repair, and increasing the hair growth, while also boosting the energy levels in the body.
Improves bone health: Magnesium is found in high quantities in sorghum, which means that your calcium levels will be properly maintained, as magnesium increases calcium absorption in the body.
Manages diabetes: The tannin-rich bran of sorghum has enzymes that inhibit the absorption of starch by the body, which can help to regulate insulin and glucose levels in the body.
Improves digestive health: Sorghum is one of the best foods for dietary fibre, which prevents cramping, bloating, constipation, stomach aches, excess gas and diarrhoea.
Types of sorghum and their uses
Sweet sorghum: The sweet sorghum is cultivated for the purpose of extracting sweeteners (syrup) from the canes. It is a good substitute for sugar canes with its cheaper production costs, drought tolerance, and high ethanol content and its leaves are used for livestock feed. Its high ethanol content useful for biofuel makes it a viable biomass crop.
Grains of sweet sorghum are edible and nutritious. Currently, many sweetener manufacturers prefer sorghum to sugar cane because it does not require lengthy fermentation or cooking time. The ethanol yield of sweet sorghum (per acre) runs into 750-800 gallons, thereby generating huge profits for the farmers.
Biomass sorghum: These are the largest sized sorghum crops at a height of 20ft. Like other sorghum crops, it is resistant to drought and is grown in large quantities for its biofuel content. After harvest, yields are processed into a solar energy source. When compared to sweet sorghum, this variety is the best option for mass production of biofuel.
Grain sorghum (red): This type is for human consumption and grows no higher than 4ft tall. It has the smallest seeds and is the most popular type in Nigeria. It can be used as poultry feed when dried and ground into rough powder.
Forage sorghum: This sorghum crop is mainly for pasture and hay. Production costs of forage sorghum are low and yields are usually high.
This type of sorghum is drought tolerant. Its height varies between 8 and 15ft. Livestock rearers are now going for sorghum forage because its cheaper with the rich protein nutrients required for robust animal produce.
How to cultivate sorghum
Planting time: In Nigeria, the time frame for planting sorghum is between September and mid-October. By this time, harmattan would not have settled in, meaning that the soil would neither be too moist or too dry – the perfect soil condition for sorghum farming in the country. Information and updates on sorghum tips should never be overlooked.
Land preparation: The sorghum crop is a highly adaptable and has little or no need for moist soil as it can thrive in soils with little moisture. The perfect soil temperature for the sorghum crop is about 15°C. It is mostly alkaline-tolerant and can be grown on a soil with PH level of between 6.0 and 8.5. 7°C to 10°C is the minimum soil temperature and if it goes any lower, seeds will fail to germinate. Also, temperature higher than 15°C drastically affects yields.
Seed selection: Seed selection is very important in sorghum farming. There are varieties in every type of sorghum. Each new hybrid is always better than the last, therefore, it is best to go for the cross-pollinated and scientifically engineered hybrids for maximum output. Select seeds that can adapt to the climatic, environmental and soil conditions of the area where the acres to be cultivated lie. Efficient seed placement calls for corn or tractor-drawn planters.
Planting: Manual labour will do but hiring a tilling machine like the disk plough or harrow is better. Since sorghum soil needs just a little tilling, harrowing machines are faster than manual labour. Preparing the row space and seed depth is accompanied by soil tilling. Seed depth should not be more than 3.8cm or the seeds could die out. Row width 0.30m to 0.40m. For a planting population of up to 110,000 – 150,000 sorghum crops, 3kg – 8kg per hectare will be perfect.
Fertilisation: Although fertilisers such as NPK can be used to enhance yield, a good harvest can still be expected without it. If fertiliser is required, mix in NPK or other appropriate fertilisers in moist soil before planting. Dry soil requires irrigation or rainfall afterwards. Fertiliser should be reapplied five to six weeks after planting. Information on the right kinds of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, farming tools, and seeds are to be carefully studied and gathered.
Weed/pest control: Herbicides like atrazine are applied with boom spray for weed control. Herbicides should be carefully applied before seeds germinate. Pesticides for pests that attack germinating seeds should be applied during planting. Carbofuran 3G at 8-10 ha should take care of most pests like shoot fly, bollworm and chillo borer.
Harvest: Growth to maturity of sorghum crops spans over the space of four months. This guarantees quick harvests and timely profits for sorghum farmers. Sweet sorghum is harvested 14-17 days after the grains begin milking (pierce the grain to check for milk-like liquid). Cut off the canes from the bottom, remove the leaves and then keep the canes aside. Grain and forage sorghum need to be left a bit longer until the grain becomes mature (hard and bright).
Yields are either manually or mechanically harvested. Large yields require harvesters. Sugarcane harvesters will do for sweet or forage sorghum. Manually cut off the seed clusters of grain sorghum with a few inches of stalks remaining.
Marketing sorghum crops: With increasing demand for sorghum crops by breweries, bakeries, livestock farmers, and manufacturing companies, great opportunities abound for investors in sorghum farming. The price of a kilogramme of sorghum could range from N110 to N250 depending on the state it is being sold in. With this price range, a sorghum farmer could earn as much as between N20,000 and N25,000 for 100kg of sorghum. This means a booming market for the Nigerian sorghum farmer. There is need to establish contacts either with organisations that supply to factories or with the end-user factories themselves to ensure constant sales.
Benefits of sorghum
Livestock feed: The grass of sorghum crops (forage sorghum) contains rich protein and fat nutrients, which makes it an excellent feed for farm animals like cattle, goats and other herbivores. On the other hand, the crop’s grains can be processed into mash for poultry birds.
Food: After harvest, the grains can be ground into flour and sold to bakeries or used for other baking purposes. The syrup in sweet sorghum is extracted and sold as food sweeteners.
Beverages: This is an especially good business opportunity because sorghum is a maltose-rich crop. The malt it contains is the primary ingredient breweries need to produce non-alcoholic drinks like malt soft drinks. For alcoholic drinks, however, fermentation of this ingredient produces beer powder and lager beer.
Biofuel/ethanol production: A certain type of sorghum crop can be cultivated and then used to make ethanol, a biofuel, which gives solar energy to engines.