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Commodity Classic's sorghum spotlight

Agriculture.com Staff 03/04/2010 @ 3:20pm

Grain sorghum is gaining the attention of eastern Corn Belt farmers in an area dominated by corn, soybeans and wheat, reports a category winner of the National Sorghum Producers Association's yield contest.

Chris Robinson, who farmers in Union County, Kentucky, won the association's conventional-till non-irrigated contest category with a sorghum yield of 196.9 bushels per acre. Robinson spoke before the association today during the Commodity Classic being held in Anaheim, California.

"Traditionally, grain sorghum is viewed as a scavenger crop in our area. It is a crop you grow as a last resort to replace corn or soybeans that are drown or droughted out," Robinson told producers attending the conference which is part of the Commodity Classic. "But we see it as a viable crop here as it is very economical to plant. And it is more resistant to drought conditions that can visit Kentucky."

However, Robinson adds, a big problem that Kentucky farmers face when growing grain sorghum is that their local elevators discourage them from doing so. "They just don't want to handle the grain," Robinson adds. "Until more acres are grown in my area of the country, I don't see elevators wanting to readily access the crop."

Ethanol is going to come up short supplying all the energy needs called for by the Energy Independence & Security Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2008 declared John Ashworth of National Bioenergy Center in Golden, Colorado. Ashworth was reporting to farmers attending today's National Sorghum Producers Association meeting being held as part of the Commodity Classic.

"The energy act calls for the production of 36 billion gallons of fuel from renewable sources by 2022," Ashworth says. "Currently corn ethanol levels are at 10.7 billion gallons and I expect that production to level out at around 15 billions gallons in the near future."

So how will the difference between corn ethanol production and the energy act goal be met? Ashworth sees a great deal of potential in cellulosic ethanol using forage sorghum as a feed stock. "And we are working with processes that will enhance the production of other products from forage sorghum processing such as plastics, for example," he adds.

"As much as a third of grain sorghum production is going to be utilized for ethanol production in the near future," Ashworth told sorghum producers from across the country at their national meeting. "Plus, I see huge potential for the use of forage sorghum for cellulosic ethanol production as we improve the technology for this process."

In that regard, Ashworth reported that the National Bioenergy Center, working with grants from the National Sorghum Producers Association, is refining a process called enzymatic hydrolysis that is capable of breaking down the lignin in forage sorghum which allows the crop to produce a higher level of ethanol from fermentation.

"Forage sorghum is more difficult to ferment compared to corn or grain sorghum because it contains high amounts of lignin, a fibrous material in the plant's matter. We are using enzymes to break down the lignin to reveal the plant's cellulose allowing it to be more easily fermented to create ethanol," Ashworth explained to producers.

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