Overcoming Color Bias

By Bill Greving | September 23, 2010
We've all heard the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover," and I can't deny that sorghum has an unusual cover. After the organization of the Sorghum Checkoff, we are seeing sorghum become a more valuable feedstock to the ethanol industry, proving that despite its unusual cover, sorghum is a valuable option for many industries.

Those of us at the Sorghum Checkoff believe we've made great progress in the past year raising awareness of the potential of sorghum as a feedstock in the ethanol process. The Sorghum Checkoff is on a mission to increase the inclusion rate of grain sorghum to produce ethanol by 50 percent. We've crisscrossed the country, speaking at conferences and trade shows, visiting with sorghum growers and ethanol producers, seeking input and addressing questions and concerns. Managers have learned that using sorghum in ethanol and feed made significant improvements to profit and product quality. In fact, some managers may be leaving money on the table by judging sorghum just by its color.

We've also talked with feedlot managers, dairy managers and nutritionists about sorghum distiller's grains. If you've seen this product, well, it's a little different in appearance. In my experience, some livestock producers have the misperception that the red distiller's grains from grain sorghum ethanol production are not as nutritious as the typical distillers dried grains (DDGS) from yellow corn. As they say, you can't judge a book by its cover.

Distiller's grains from corn and sorghum are a valuable feed for livestock, poultry and swine. When they first came on the market, there was some initial reluctance from feedlots. However, facts overcame fear and now there is a rapidly growing global market for DDGS. China is on pace to become the largest buyer of U.S. DDGS this year, buying some 1.5 million tons.

Sorghum DDGS tends to be lower in fat and higher in protein than corn DDGS. There is no need to make comparisons. Similar to the role of sorghum in the ethanol process, it is another option for those producers in the sorghum belt.

Grain sorghum is unique among all the crops being evaluated as a feedstock source for renewable fuel production in that it can fit into all the proposed conversion schemes currently under review. Not only is the crop drought tolerant and uses less inputs than many other crops, it is highly adaptable to whatever process becomes the dominant commercial vehicle from which biofuels are produced.

The same can be said of the sorghum coproduct in the ethanol processthe DDGS may appear a bit different, but it has proven to be another viable option for a nutritional feed. So I guess the old saying proves true, you can't judge a book by its cover and you can't judge sorghum DDGS by its color either.

Bill Greving is the chairman of the United Sorghum Checkoff Program. Reach him at wand@ruraltel.net.