Sorghum is a crop that may not be familiar to many people, but with the increasingly dry summers, that is going to change.
Seventeen of the 25 species of Sorghum are native to the north of Australia, plus you will see one species which has naturalised and one which is widely cultivated. Here in France the cultivated species, S. bicolor, has been regularly grown for a decade or so, but with the drought, farmers are looking at it more keenly. Cultivated sorghum has been developed into two main types, one grown for the grain, one grown for the forage. The one grown for grain is known as Milo, the one used for forage is known as Sweet Sorghum.
|Speargrass Sorghum ingrans, a wild native grass in the Northern Territory, Australia.|
Cultivated sorghum comes from Africa originally, and grows well in conditions where water is short and temperatures are high. Climate change means that farmers in France are experiencing less rain, more sun and higher temperatures. They are having to adapt. With summers that are drier and drier, or at least, hotter and hotter, sorghum, with its ability to survive with less water than maize or sunflower, is being considered by more and more farmers, and is already well established in the south-west.
|The black soil plains of the Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia, where sorghum is widely grown.|
Sorghum offers an alternative crop to maize or sunflowers in the rotation for wheat, barley and canola, and perhaps best of all, requires almost no treatments. Weeds need to be controlled, and a bit of fertilizer added, but there is no need for insecticides or fungicides.
|Fodder sorghum being grown in the Vienne Valley.|
The grains can be used to make gluten free flour. As a fodder plant it is used in pig and poultry feed.
|Sorghum near Le Grand Pressigny, October 2019.|
Sales of sorghum seed increased by 60% in 2020, and with 122 000 hectares planted to sorghum, France is the second biggest producer in Europe after Russia.
|Sorghum being grown in the Manse Valley near the Chateau de Montgoger, October 2020.|
Some of the big agricultural cooperatives, such as Euralis, have been promoting sorghum since the 1980s, recognising how well adapted to climate change it is. They recognise the security it gives the producers and the benefit of another crop in rotation. It is not affected by bad weather or pests, and the market is widespread and varied. For livestock farmers it is a way of ensuring adequate forage.