Appearances can be deceiving

Waxy sorghum looks like every other grain sorghum out in the field. It can be red, bronze, yellow, tan or even white. But what makes it different is what’s on the inside of the grain.

According to the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, what makes this type of grain sorghum different is the makeup of the starch in the grain. Starch in the endosperm of traditional grain sorghum is made up of two polymers—amylopectin and amylose. In traditional grain sorghum the ratio of the two is approximately 75% amylopectin and 25% amylose: however, waxy sorghum is made up almost entirely of amylopectin.

Florentino Lopez, former executive director of USCP and now a consultant for international market development, said the organization remains focused on educating end-users of the many attributes available from sorghum.

“Waxy is one such attribute,” Lopez said. “Studies demonstrate that waxy sorghum has the potential of improved yields in alcohol production, making waxy sorghum a promising product in the baijiu market in China and in ethanol production domestically.”

Baijiu is a Chinese colorless liquor that is between 35% and 60% alcohol by volume. USCP is currently aiming to help end-users test larger samples of waxy sorghum, affording them an opportunity to experience the potential within their industry.

Justin Weinheimer, crop improvement director, USCP agrees. Waxy sorghum is not a newly discovered attribute, but instead something that might have been overlooked.

“Starch research in sorghum has been conducted for feed and food uses for decades,” he said. “The combination of new market opportunities and more efficient hybrid breeding processes, allow for the potential of waxy sorghums to not only be agronomically suitable but also deliver market value to the farmer and end users.

Lopez believes waxy sorghum growers have more of a market potential opportunity than traditional types of grain sorghum.

“We believe the baijiu market remains central to increased production and demand for waxy sorghum,” he said. “This is a developing story that has seen small shipments of waxy sorghum tested in baijiu production.”

So does Weinheimer.

“Waxy sorghum could offer producers a higher value or more consistent market place than traditional commodity-based grain sorghum,” he said. “Differentiated- or attribute-based grain sales should lead to higher or more stable prices, increasing farm economic returns.”

USCP has been engaged with seed developers, supply chain managers and end users to explore the potential value of waxy sorghum.

“Currently USCP is supporting various trials at the field level as well as the end user to determine how this rediscovered attribute can bring value to sorghum farmers,” Weinheimer said.

Those results seemed promising to Lopez and the industry—leading to ongoing testing.

“Our current desire is to test a large shipment of waxy sorghum and establish a lasting demand or need for U.S. waxy sorghum,” he said. “The baijiu market has remained somewhat elusive in knowing it’s full use of sorghum but most indications place it in the 2 to 3 (million metric tons) or 75 to 115 (million bushels).

Developing a consistent market for waxy sorghum could offer producers additional value.

“A consistent market that offers profit potential is always the pursuit in my view,” Lopez said. “As always, supply and demand stability is important in maintaining value while not allowing market erosion.”

A platform to help carry the message and sorghum’s story forward, for Lopez, is the USCP.

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“USCP remains focused and engaged in helping producers and end users benefit from sorghum,” he said.

And despite all that has happened because of COVID-19, Lopez sees potential on the horizon.

“The current virus crisis initially created difficulties in our efforts to remain engaged with our end users, but frankly, our ability to pivot our efforts has led to ongoing success,” Lopez said. “Many hours of—name your platform—have kept us engaged in sharing the sorghum story. Like many others, we look forward to having the ability to travel and carry the message door to door.”

That being said, Lopez believes demand and value for sorghum remains extremely positive.

“Most reports, including (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s) WASDE report, indicate sorghum is trading at a premium even in this difficult time,” he said. “Today sorghum sales remain strong and values have offered promising potential.”

Weinheimer agrees, and thinks further education is key.

“As with any new opportunity education remains a key to success,” he said. “As USCP learns more about how farmers can benefit from waxy sorghum, grower education will certainly be a priority area.”

For more information about sorghum and the work USCP is doing, visit

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].