Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Sorghum Solution?

Corn is an important food staple for both man and his livestock and poultry. As we moved to increased ethanol production from corn, we experienced the old adage of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" as corn prices went through the roof. Obviously, we can't have corn for our cars and eat it too. Something has to give.

For that reason, the answer is looking more and more like sorghum grass. Sorghum is a high energy content grain that has been used for both for fodder and alcoholic beverages (sorghum mash). It is drought tolerant and, thus, requires little or no irrigation (depending on the annual rainfall amount). It is heat tolerant which is why, for now, it is grown in the hot and dry areas of Texas. It is also "bog" resistant which means that it could have survived the recent floods in the Midwest that literally destroyed all of the corn crop. It can growth to heights of 20 feet. It costs about 45 cents less per the cost per gallon of ethanol to produce than either corn or sugar. Research is being done at A&M University to expand the ethanol production beyond just the grain that sorghum produces (See Full Story). If the stalks, stems and leaves can be included to produce ethanol than as much as 2,000 gallons of ethanol can be derived from a single acre of planted sorghum. That's more than 5 times the effective ethanol production from corn which is around 370 gallons per acre. Certainly, Genetic Modification/Engineering should be able to further enhance ethanol production levels.

I know that Congress is more interested in the votes they can get from the "corn producing" States to worry about sorghum. However, the future of this country could lie in these high yield and high energy plants. I believe we should drop the tax protection for corn and provide tax incentives for sorghum and get away from the politics of getting votes and get on with solving our energy problems.

Image by Houstonian's photostream on Flickr with Creative Commons Licensing. All rights retained. (Click to View Other Works).

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