Education & Reseach

About Sorghum

What is Sorghum?

Sorghum, a grain, forage or sugar crop, is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water. Sorghum is known as a high-energy, drought tolerant crop. Because of its wide uses and adaptation “sorghum is one of the really indispensable crops” required for the survival of humankind (From Jack Harlan, 1971).


The origin and early domestication of sorghum took place in Northeastern Africa and the earliest know record of sorghum comes from an archeological dig at Nabta Playa, near the Egyptian-Sudanese border and had been dated at 8,000 B.C. It spread throughout Africa and along the way adapted to a wide range of environments, from the highlands of Ethiopia to the semi-arid Sahel.

The development and spread of five different races of sorghum can, in many cases, be attributed to the movement of various tribal groups in Africa. Sorghum then spread to India and China and eventually worked its way into Australia. The first known record of sorghum in the United States comes from Ben Franklin in 1757, who wrote about its application in producing brooms.

Modern-Day Uses

In the United States, South America, and Australia sorghum grain is used primarily for livestock feed and in a growing number of ethanol plants. Sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per bushel as comparable feedstocks and uses one third less water. In the livestock market, sorghum is used in the poultry, beef and pork industries. Stems and foliage are used for green chop, hay, silage, and pasture.

A significant amount of U.S. sorghum is also exported to international markets where it is used for animal feed and ethanol.

Sorghum has recently appeared in food products in the US, because of use in gluten-free food products. Sorghum is an excellent substitute for wheat for those who cannot tolerate gluten. Sorghum is used to make both leavened and unleavened breads. In Sahelian Africa, it is primarily used in couscous. Various fermented and unfermented beverages are made from sorghum. It can be steamed or popped and is consumed as a fresh vegetable in some areas of the world. Syrup is made from sweet sorghum.

Sorghum is also used for building material, fencing, floral arrangements, pet food and brooms.

Sorghum Production in Kansas

Year in and year out, Kansas ranks as the number one grain sorghum producing state in the nation, representing 46 percent of total acres planted with Kansas farmers producing 185 million bushels. Sorghum is used to produce many products, including ethanol, packing materials and livestock feed. There is also an increasing demand for sustainable food-grade sorghum as consumers are attracted to its naturally gluten-free and nutritional benefits. Grain sorghum grown in Kansas is also exported to countries around the world. One of the best qualities of this crop is its efficient use of water and ability to withstand Kansas’ hot summer days.

Sorghum Production in the U.S.

According to the United Sorghum Checkoff Program’s annual report, sorghum was planted on approximately 6.3 million acres in 2022 in 47 states. The top 5 states in “passback” funds are as follows:
1. Kansas
2. Texas
3. Oklahoma
4. Nebraska
5. South Dakota

The area nicknamed “The Sorghum Belt” runs from South Dakota to southern Texas, and the crop is grown primarily on dryland acres. Over the years, sorghum has been either exported, used in animal feed domestically, or utilized in industrial and food uses. In recent years, sorghum’s use in the ethanol market has seen tremendous growth, with 30 to 35 percent of domestic sorghum going to ethanol production.

Educator’s Corner

It’s time to hit the books! With the addition of sorghum in the USDA’s school meal buying guides,  The United Sorghum Checkoff Program launched K-12 lesson plans that will allow for students of all ages to learn about sorghum, its nutritional benefits, and more through multiple subject areas. You can find those here.