Sorghum United Paves Way for Continued Innovation and Education in Sorghum Industry

Head of Sorghum United, Nate Blum.
Listen to Reagan Calk’s full conversation with Sorghum United’s Nate Blum.

Associate Farm Editor, Reagan Calk, had the chance to visit with the head of Sorghum United, Nate Blum, about innovations in the sorghum industry and the Global Sorghum Conference taking place this week in France.

With around 70 active members on every continent, Blum describes Sorghum United as a grassroots organization that involves each part of the value chain from researchers to the consumer.

“This is a global sorghum conference in every sense of the word,” Blum said. “There are people here from all over the world, and many of our team members at Sorghum United who live in some of these places are here, so it is really nice for us to be able to get together.”

The conference is heavily focused on research, Blum said, and brings in researchers from around the world. There have been many conversations about consumer product development at the conference as well, Blum added.

“I know Kansas State has had a big impact on this conference, as a matter of fact,” Blum said.

A big topic of conversation around the world, Blum said, is the different uses of sorghum for food, fuel, and fiber. An example Blum provided is the Texas company, Milex, which manufactures a natural blow-in insulation made from grain sorghum.

Blum also said a company in Pennsylvania is working on marketing a ready-to-eat microwavable bowl of sorghum made with different flavors.

“The fastest growing market in the U.S. is for pet food, but snack food isn’t far behind,” Blum said.

Because of the many nutritional benefits of sorghum, Blum said there are many opportunities for sorghum-based snack foods to take off in the future. Blum added that the Nebraska Food for Health Center published two papers last year showing research on how sorghum can help to rebalance the human gut microbiome.

“These grains are among the first that mankind cultivated,” Blum said. “So why wouldn’t it make sense that our gut microbiome would evolve along with those grains?”

One of the big jobs at Sorghum United, Blum said, is developing value-added markets for sorghum growers all around the world.

“Empowering entrepreneurs in places that are maybe economically disparaged in the creation of small business incubators and through education and allowing them to work directly with local farmers to create those value-added products through direct contracting,” Blum said.

Blum also talked about the adaptability of sorghum as a crop. Sorghum grows best in a warmer climate, Blum added, but that does not mean it cannot grow successfully further north. He also mentioned that sorghum has a shorter growing season than many crops.

“It uses about one-third of the water of other crops, and it is a lot cheaper to buy the seed than it is for comparable crops,” Sorghum said.

Sorghum is always a good addition to a cropping system that can provide many environmental benefits, Blum said, as it helps to break up the compaction layer in the soil.

“We can talk about environmental sustainability all day long, but when we are talking about the farm, and farmers and their businesses, it first has to be economically sustainable,” Blum said. “So environmental sustainability, I think, happens as a biproduct of economic sustainability.”

From a soil health aspect, Blum said grain sorghum has a larger root biomass than comparable crops.

“What that means is that it leaves more biology in the soil after harvest, but it also goes down six feet or more,” Blum said.

Because sorghum can break through the compaction layer, Blum said research from Kansas State University has shown that when other crops, such as corn, are planted after sorghum, there is an average of eight percent increase in yield for the following crop.

Blum said Sorghum United is working on a few projects that will be primary sources of funding. One of those projects is a series of books that will be available for purchase on Amazon soon.

“The characters are based on posters that we have on display in Rome at the United Nation’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) as part of the international year of millets,” Blum said.

A big challenge, Blum said, is that everywhere in the world, sorghum is referred to as something different. In the books, the names of the characters portray the different names for sorghum around the world, to help individuals understand that sorghum goes by many names, but it is the same grain.

Posters that include the “Sorgho Squad” are available for free download on the Sorghum United website in several different languages. These captivating posters offer an array of educational information about sorghum.

“We hope that educators will take the advantage and print them off and use them as they see fit,” Blum said. “The first book should be available digitally on Amazon within the next week.”

The name of the first book, Blum said, is “From the Ruins Comes Jowar.” There are four total books in the series, Blum said, and they are somewhat of a graphic novel style, and offer captivating illustrations as well as plenty of educational value for all ages.

“The artist we use is very much that kind of an art style like you would find in a comic book,” Blum said. “We wrote them, so they are accessible to children, but we also wrote them, so they are entertaining for adults too.”

To learn more about Sorghum United and see content, you can visit their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and their website.

Sorghum United also moderates a global grassroots network of professionals in the sorghum and millets industry. The group includes experts in all roles of the value chain, including researchers, seed dealers, farmers, processors, and consumers. To find the group on WhatsApp, click here.

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