Benefits of growing grain sorghum

A number of benefits are associated with growing grain sorghum, including its versatility and strong market demand. There are several sorghum types, with grain sorghum usually producing a grain with higher starch content than sweet sorghum. This grain is predominantly used for animal feed but is also used as a feedstock for biofuel production and Baijiu production in China. 

Dalby Bio-Refinery in Queensland’s Darling Downs converts grain sorghum to ethanol. The biorefinery also produces a high protein animal feed (wet cake) and syrup from the ethanol process, which it sells to local dairies and feedlots.

Agronomic benefits

Sorghum is the main summer farming crop grown in Queensland and Northern New South Wales. It plays a key role in providing feed grains to the beef, dairy, pig and poultry industries. Growing sorghum is a good choice as a rotation crop due to its high heat and moisture stress tolerance.

Sorghum is well suited for dry conditions, areas with uneven rainfall distribution that may adversely affect the growing season of other crops, and high year to year variation in rainfall and water supplies.
Other advantages to growing sorghum include its:
  • ability to be grown on marginal soils
  • shorter growing season.
The lower variable cost of sorghum can help growers spread risk by:
  • producing another crop at lower cost
  • spreading limited capital across more acres.

Evaluating the economics of growing grain sorghum

Managing sorghum for high yields, published by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), claims that sorghum is the most profitable crop in the higher rainfall areas of the northern grain belt. It also states that farming whole grain sorghum may be as profitable as wheat in western growing regions, if slightly more yield can be achieved to make up for a lower price. 

Growing grain sorghum

Grain sorghum, both dryland and irrigated, is usually grown on heavy clay soils.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries provides a guide to sorghum varieties and planting methods as well as comprehensive information on nutritional inputs and disease management. 

The Department of Primary Industries NSW provides a similar fact sheet: Best management practices for grain sorghum [PDF 879 kb].

Managing sorghum for high yields also offers growers best practice strategies for improving yields of grain sorghum.

The guide provides information on:
  • fallow management strategies
  • planting time and optimal row spacings
  • nutrition and fertiliser strategies
  • weed and pest control.

Harvesting grain sorghum

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has information on Sorghum – nutrition, irrigation and harvest which covers:

  • when to harvest
  • header settings
  • pre-harvest spraying.

Supplying grain sorghum

Dalby Bio-Refinery Ltd processes about 500 tonnes of sorghum grain a day and about 200,000 tonnes a year. As such it requires a constant supply of sorghum grain throughout the year. Some of its suppliers store their grain on farm and sell small batches to the refinery through the year.

Best management practices for grain sorghum fact sheet (DPI NSW) stresses the importance of:

  • preventing moisture from getting into stored grain so that fungi doesn’t start to grow and spoil the grain
  • inspecting grain regularly to check for insects.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries claims that most insect control methods for stored grain work against all species, so you don’t need to identify the storage pests to make decisions about most control methods. They also provide a guide on controlling insects in stored grain

Contact your local Pioneer ® Seeds Australia representative if you require expert advice on any aspect of planting or growing grain sorghum.