Sorghum Season

Driving across the Great Plains today, I noticed that sorghum covered most of the crop fields, especially in central Kansas.  Native to northeastern Africa, sorghum was first cultivated in that region some 8000 years ago and its use spread to other areas of Africa, India and Southeast Asia.  Historians report that sorghum was brought to North America in concert with the slave trade though, despite its nutritional value, it has not been a major food crop in the U.S.  Worldwide, at least 30 species of sorghum combine to yield the fifth most abundant cereal grain consumed by humans.

Today, sorghum (also known as milo) is primarily grown for livestock feed (especially pigs and chickens) in the U.S. though sorghum flour has been increasingly used to make gluten-free baked goods and pasta; in addition, the plant has gained favor in the production of biofuels, especially due to its drought tolerance.  Indeed, the latter trait has spawned an increased cultivation of sorghum on the semiarid Plains and the "Sorghum Belt" now extends from South Dakota to Texas; Kansas is the leading producer.

The distinctive, grain-bearing pannicles (generally bronze in color) poke above the green vegetation by late August and vast fields of sorghum produce a mosaic with drying cornfields and bright yellow plots of sunflowers.  As our climate warms and aquifers shrink, sorghum will likely become even more common across the Great Plains of North America.