Caribbean Producers experiments with replacing corn with sorghum
HILL RUN, St Catherine:THE CARIBBEAN Broilers Group is banking on the use of sorghum as a substitute for imported yellow corn, a major ingredient and high-cost factor in its line of Nutramix animal feeds manufactured at Newport Mills.
Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke on Thursday toured the experimental plot at the company's Hill Run, St Catherine, property, where Corporate Affairs Manager Dr Keith Amiel disclosed that the results were encouraging.
An estimated 4.8 million acres of the grain was cultivated in United States in 2010 and Amiel is confident that Jamaica can get between 140-150 bushels per acre, compared to the 120-126 bushels per acre the Americans get on average. This is due largely to the fact that sorghum is among the most efficient crops in the conversion of solar sugar and use of water, the latter point which was vividly borne out in Caribbean Broilers' trial run.
"We tried planting the sorghum using flood irrigation and the waterlogged soil did not work. It doesn't like that amount of water and there is no advantage to using lots of it. The water requirement is about 60 per cent of what corn uses," Amiel told The Gleaner.
OPTIMISTIC ABOUT PLAN
With Jamaica enjoying year-round sunshine, Amiel is optimistic that cultivating sorghum as an input in the local manufacturing of animal feed will translate into between one and a half to two crops per year, against the one crop to which the Americans are limited by weather constraints.
While not saying how much the investment will cost, the company plans to start planting 300 acres at the beginning of March, with some changes to its strategy. These include the use of overhead irrigation, which is much more efficient, for which the equipment has been ordered.
The variety to be planted takes about 110 days to come to maturation and consultant agriculturist Johnny Hear is happy with what he has seen so far. With the crop some 15 days away from harvesting, he pointed to another local climatic advantage, in that the sunlight could result in the crop ripening a little quicker.
With the moisture content of imported yellow corn about 12 per cent on average, sorghum comes in at about 15 per cent but leaving the crop in the field a further three days could help to dry it down further.
Corn, over the years has been subject to theft, which is unlikely to be the case with sorghum, a situation with which Amiel is familiar. He told The Gleaner: "When the corn was ready to be reaped, you stand up on the road and it looks good. Then you go 20 feet inside and there is no corn, thieves gone with it."
Sorghum was cultivated in Jamaica many decades ago when the prevalence of tick fever, a highly contagious disease spread by ticks for which cattle are the preferred host, resulted in a zero-grazing policy to contain the spread. This meant that the cattle were kept inside instead of being let out to pasture and feed was cut and taken to them.
With the emphasis on bulk, the strain of sorghum cultivated then was much taller, with much more leaves, compared to the shorter varieties now being grown and to which Jamaica is looking as a practical substitute importation for yellow corn.
The fifth-most prolific grain in the world, grown mainly in Third-World countries, sorghum is also used to make porridge and breakfast cereals to feed babies and also ground and used to make dumplings. However, it is also an excellent substitute for corn in animal feeds targeted to ruminants, adult pigs and layers, even though its much smaller grain gives a size advantage to a kernel of corn.
Admitting that the energy per unit weight is slightly lower than corn, Amiel told The Gleaner that this imbalance can be corrected in the feed mill by increasing the oil content to back the energy content in line with that of corn.
While its cultivation in Jamaica has been linked to animal feed, sorghum, of which there are many varieties, is grown across the world as an important food crop, especially in drought-stricken areas. This is because most strains have been shown to be drought- and heat-resistant. In Africa, Central America and South Asia, sorghum is a staple crop in poor and rural communities.
It is also used to produce a syrup, alcoholic beverages and biofuels, with some experts contending that it is more practical for ethanol production than sugar cane.