SAN LUIS, Pampanga -- Sorghum may yet become the next best alternative smart crop for famers and a complementary crop to corn as feed raw material for poultry and livestock.
In fact, sorghum’s potential as the next best crop for farmers had convinced the Department of Agriculture (DA) to target some 200, 000 hectares for sorghum production for 2019 to 2020.
Since 2018, the DA has been promoting the establishment of sorghum demo-farms in different regions to study the suitability of the crop and the crop’s performance in different cropping areas, as well as to entice farmers to try sorghum production as an alternative crop.
DA assistant secretary for Agri-business Andrew Villacorta said the crop is worth considering because of its potential as a feed material that can supplement farmer income and boost available raw material availability for feed production. Even now, Villacorta said there are varietal suitability trials being conducted in different regions on sorghum.
“Farmers can use the crop as an alternative to corn. Sorghum can even be intercropped with coconut or planted in idle lands and even mountains and hills,” Villacorta said.
Dubbed as the “camel of crops”, sorghum is a drought-tolerant, hardy, easy-to-propagate and rich in protein crop which can be used as an alternative raw ingredient for animal feeds, while its sweet variety, is an alternative to the production of sugar.
The DA launched the National Sorghum Development Program to promote the cultivation of sorghum in various areas, particularly in lands owned by indigenous farmers.
The goal is to produce some 10-million metric tons of feed grains in the next three years to support the growing livestock and poultry industry of the country which are heavily dependent on yellow corn and cassava for feed materials.
Villacorta said sorghum can be an alternative to corn and will help in boosting the availability of supply for corn and cassava as it can offset the two crops’ use for feed raw material. In fact, current high cost of feed material from yellow corn is still forcing feed millers to import corn and feed wheat. Feed millers in 2018 had to import some two million metric tons of feed wheat.
Boosting sorghum production can potentially bring down the cost of feed raw materials. Imported feed wheat costs some P15 per kilogram while sorghum is only pegged at P12 per kilogram. And since sorghum is produced in the country, if successful, there will no longer be any need to import.
And with the continuing growth of the poultry sector, it is likely that the demand for feed material will grow proportionately. In 2018 alone, all regions in the country, except the national capital region and Cagayan Valley, posted increases in production ranging from 0.70 percent to 15.94 percent relative to their poultry production levels in 2017, according to the Chicken Situation Report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) from Jan. to Dec. 2018.
The PSA also reported that Central Luzon was the top producing region with 658.91 thousand metric tons or 35.88 percent share to the total chicken production.
As for the livestock industry, the PSA said that production posted a 1.25 percent increment. The agency said that this contributed 17.11 percent to the total agricultural production.
In 2013, the country was only importing some one million metric tons of feed wheat according to the Philippine Association of Feed Millers Inc. (Pafmi). In 2018, the country had imported some two million metric tons of feed material for a billion peso industry that farmers could surely benefit from if they start planting sorghum, according to the DA.
The state-run Pampanga State Agricultural University (PSAU) in Magalang town was among the first to implement studies on sweet sorghum in 2013. PSAU partnered with a private sector entity with the aim of looking at cost reduction for feed production.
PSAU, in a cost and return analysis, said that sorghum can potentially lower feed cost to P20.49 per kilo. And with the palatability of sorghum feed, as evidenced by consumption of poultry the stocks, sorghum had the potential to increase net income to P18.49 per kilo of chicken live weight. PSAU’s 2013 pilot study highlighted the potential of sorghum feed in making poultry stocks more competitive.
PSAU also found its experimental feeds from sweet sorghum to be cheaper at P20.49 per kilo compared to P21.86 per kilo using corn. Though the price difference may not be too great, this spells a whole lot of difference in the long run since cost of feeds for raising poultry and livestock may account for a significant 50 percent of the total cost.
PSAU also found out that sorghum feed can speed up the fattening of chickens. This also resulted in the higher net income from sweet sorghum at P18.49 per kilo compared to corn, P14.9 per kilo. For the corn-sorghum mix feed, it was P17.31 per kilo.
Climate Smart Crop
Sweet sorghum has the primary advantage of being a climate smart crop. Owing to its hardiness towards little irrigation, it can be planted in marginal lands like mountainsides, rocky plains and idle lands. It can also be intercropped with coconuts and other sparsely planted crops.
Certain sorghum varieties are primarily promoted as major sources of bio-ethanol. Parts of plants stalks can also be used in the production of silage for livestock feeds. This means that growing sorghum has lesser carbon footprint and impacts less on the environment.
Silage is a mixture of fermented high-moisture feed. Sorghum silage is forage for ruminant animals because it is high in energy and digestibility. Sorghum is known to have more protein than corn. Silage is usually fermented in containers mixed with essential microorganisms and molasses. The fermentation renders the material suitable to be fed to cattle, sheep and other such ruminants (cud-chewing animals), and it has been proven to be a good source of energy and protein for carabaos.
Villacorta said that all the potentials of sorghum make the plant a very viable crop. He added that to speed up sorghum propagation, the Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) Program, which was conceptualized for the benefit of marginalized sectors in the agriculture and fisheries sector, will be leading the distribution of sorghum seeds.
He said that some 100,000-hectare area could produce at least two million metric tons of sorghum grains for feeds. From 100, 000 hectares of sorghum, some eight million metric tons of silage materials for cattle and small ruminants could also be produced.
“Low-cost feeds mean more access to materials. This in turn would lead to more competitiveness in the poultry and livestock sector,” Villacorta added.