A highly nutritious plant variety used to feed animals, which is being broadly used by Brazilian farmers, at a clip of about 2 million tons a year, has its origin in an Arab country. It is sorghum sudanense, also known as sorgo sudan, originally from Sudan.
"As a rule, sorghum came from North Africa, and has been known in Brazil since the 1960s, but it was only from a few years ago until now that it started to be used more frequently," said José Avelino Santos Rodrigues, researcher at the Corn and Sorghum Division of Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation).
In the 2000 crop, Brazilian sorghum production did not reach 1 million tons. In the following years, it totaled almost 2 million tons. In the last crop, production reached 1.5 million tons, according to a survey conducted by the National Food Supply Company (Conab). Sorghum production in the country grew 0.8% this year in comparison with last year's crop.
In Brazil, from 80% to 90% of all planted sorghum consists of hybrids. Even the sorghum sudanense used in the country is a crossing between the original plant from Sudan and sorghum bicolor.
The combination results in a product of high nutritious quality and productivity, according to Rodrigues. The product has up to 18% more protein than the other varieties, which makes it suitable for animal feed.
According to Rodrigues, in addition to being used as animal feed, hybrid sorghum can also be used as human food, as happens in Africa. Sorghum is consumed by the population of some African countries.
According to the researcher, the product can be used in the manufacturing of cereal bars, flour for bakery, industrial starch, and alcohol, among other items. Sorghum is useful for crop rotation, in plantations such as soybean, and has a faster cycle than other types of pastures.
Sorghum sudanense is also used in its original form, without hybridization, by farmers in the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. Its main advantage, in this case, is the fact that it grows well in temperate climates and is resistant to drought, conditions that are common to farmers in some regions of the state. "Farmers in Rio Grande do Sul need a good, fast pasture," he said.
Another advantage in planting sorghum has to do with the use of direct seeding. In this system, the next culture is sowed without plowing the earth, or removing remainders from the previous culture. Sorghum produces good stubble for direct seeding, which is broadly used in the culture that is commonly rotated with sorghum in Brazil: soybean.
Presently, sorghum culture has been expanding a lot due to crop rotation, especially in the midwestern Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
These states concentrate 85% of all grain sorghum planted in the country. According to Rodrigues, sorghum may partially replace corn as poultry, swine, and cattle feed. Its commercial value, however, is 20% lower than corn's.
According to data supplied by Embrapa, leading sorghum producing countries last year were Nigeria, 9.8 million tons, the United States, 7.2 million tons, India, 7 million, Mexico, 5.4 million and Sudan, 5.2 million. The three leading consumer countries were India, Nigeria and Sudan.
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