News / USA

    Drought Kindles US Farmers' Appetite for African Grain Sorghum

    Fred Prokop grows sorghum and corn on his farm outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. (VOA/S. Baragona)
    Fred Prokop grows sorghum and corn on his farm outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. (VOA/S. Baragona)
    LINCOLN, Nebraska — As the worst drought in decades dries up U.S. corn supplies, some are seeing the virtues of sorghum, a crop that originated in Africa.  

    Sorghum, a cereal grain, is a minor part of the U.S. harvest today. But, as the climate changes, experts believe the drought-hardy food and fodder crop may become more popular.

    Walking through lush, green fields of sorghum, Nebraska farmer Fred Prokop  treads on ground deeply scarred by weeks of drought.  

    But he says the sorghum crop is patient.

    "It'll wait for water.  But corn, that's done.  Even if it does rain," Prokop says.

    Harsh environments

    Just a few rows over, his corn is brown and lifeless, as it is for many farmers across the U.S. Midwest.

    The shrunken corn harvest will raise the price of meat, milk and eggs as the cost of feeding livestock goes up.

    Years like this one are why University of Nebraska researcher Ismail Dweikat  is a passionate advocate for an under-appreciated crop.

    "Sorghum is used to harsh environments," he says. "Because it's raised there."

    African grain

    In hot, dry regions of Africa, sorghum is a staple food.  Its waxy leaves and deep roots are better suited for dry climates than corn is.

    And Dweikat says that's going to be increasingly important.

    "I think maybe this is the first year we have real drought in Nebraska.  But I think more of it's to come," he says.

    And not just in Nebraska.  More droughts are expected worldwide this century as climate change warms the planet.  That will make crops like sorghum essential, Dweikat says.

    It also has potential as a biofuel crop.

    Today, ethanol plants consume at least a quarter of the U.S. corn crop. But Dweikat says sweet sorghum, grown for its sugar cane-like stalks rather than for grain, can be turned into ethanol more efficiently than corn.

    Outnumbered

    Despite all of sorghum's advantages, American farmers planted 16 times more hectares of corn this year.
    Sorghum is a hardy crop which can grow on drought-scarred ground. (VOA/S. Baragona)Sorghum is a hardy crop which can grow on drought-scarred ground. (VOA/S. Baragona)
    x
    Sorghum is a hardy crop which can grow on drought-scarred ground. (VOA/S. Baragona)
    Sorghum is a hardy crop which can grow on drought-scarred ground. (VOA/S. Baragona)

    One reason is because there are fewer customers for sorghum.  Farmer Fred Prokop says only one nearby grain elevator will buy his sorghum.

    "At the elevator they like corn better," he says.  "There's a better market for corn."

    Corn is also more profitable for farmers when water isn't an issue, and crop insurance protection is cheaper.

    Plus, vastly more research has gone into improving corn compared to sorghum.  Dweikat says 22 times more scientists work on corn, with 100 times the funding.

    "So you can see how much there's a disparity between sorghum and corn, and how much advancement you could make in corn compared to sorghum," he says, "because we don't have the manpower. We don't have the resources."

    Keeping the faith

    But Dweikat has faith in the hardy grain.

    "I completely believe in it," he says. "I know that it's maybe next year, the year after, the year after, 10 years from now, even after I die, sorghum will be the crop."

    He may not have to wait that long.  Fred Prokop is already thinking about planting more sorghum next season.

    "If it's going to be dry again next year, [sorghum] is going to do better than the corn," he says.

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: muoi from: west
    August 26, 2012 8:27 PM
    We need to wake up...Sorghum is more nutritious, easier to grow, and drought resistant. More farmers need to follow Dweikat's lead!

    by: Peter from: Kentucky
    August 23, 2012 7:53 AM
    So, the corn has 22 times more scientists and 100 times more research funding and the corn is dying while the sorghum lives. I'm just saying.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.