American Chronicle, CA
Seeds For My Sweet. Sorghum For My Honey, Satisfaction Guaranteed!
Frank A. Hilario
The Yankee poultry raisers feed their chickens with expensive food: corn. That is
because corn prices have jumped following the high demand for corn for ethanol,
gw Bush’s biofuel of choice. Are they riding Volkswagens now? Do Yankees
always make terrible food-for-non-food choices?
With each jump in the corn price, the Yankee farmers are happier and the poultry
raisers in the US and in the Philippines are sadder. You see, we Filipinos
purchase Yankee jokes and buy their corn. This one is for the birds.
Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, says, ‘We’re putting the
supermarket in competition with the corner filling station for the output of the
farm’ (Matthew Wald, 2006 January 16, nytimes.com). ‘We’ here refers to the
Yankees, who thrive on competition, which drives their economy. They have
capitalism, don’t they?
Robert Brown, a professor in agricultural engineering at Iowa State
University, says ‘The impression is that we’re taking food out of the mouths of
babes’ (nytimes.com). No, Professor, we don’t give babies our corn. Where life is
harsh, as is often the case, we give them our grit.
Corn aside, Wald says, ‘A global shift to farm-based fuel could reduce the need
for oil and slow climate change.’ That’s about the best summary of the whole
scenario I have come across. There’s economy of words that reminds me of
Henry David Thoreau’s injunction: ‘Simplify, simplify, simplify! ... Simplicity of life
and elevation of purpose’ (heartquotes.net). Thoreau inspired by Walden, Wald
inspired by his own elevated sense of purpose, if I may put it that way. Wald has
simplified it well; his sentence of 17 words has 11 essential ones: Global shift,
farm-based fuel, reduce, need, oil, slow, climate change. That’s what this is all
about, isn’t it? That’s => more ethanol from farm crops => less oil from fossil
fuels => less carbon dioxide from cars => less ozone depletion => less abrupt
climate change. An act hard to follow, if not hard to swallow.
Have faith in corn for ethanol: That could be the new Protestant ethic. Brown and
other Yankee experts are afraid that the new ethic will cause corn and other food
shortages in many states, because more farmers would plant more corn, plant
less wheat, plant less soybeans. Wendy Wintersteen, Dean of the College of
Agriculture, Iowa State U, says that this summer, ‘we will have areas of the state
we would call corn deficient.’ But Keith Collins, Chief Economist of the US
Department of Agriculture, reminds us that ‘the United States is paying farmers
not to grow crops on 35 million acres, to prop up the value of corn.’ That is to
say, theoretically, 14M ha can go into the growing of corn and wheat and cotton,
so there shouldn’t be any corn deficit anywhere in the United States.
What Collins is saying makes sense to me. But, I say, corn for ethanol is a
thoroughly corny idea. Corny, as in insignificant. Corn is only a second-rate
feedstock for ethanol. It’s more expensive to produce than, say, sweet sorghum.
Joe Jobe, Executive Director of the National Biodiesel Board, thinks differently.
He says, ‘There’s a historical shift under way, not to grow more crops for energy
and less for food, but to grow more for both.’
By Jobe, amen to that! We don’t all have to eat corn. We can eat sorghum. Did
you know that sugar is sweet but, as I have already written, sweet sorghum is
sweeter? You better believe it. Heraldo Layaoen, a pioneer scientist-sorghum
grower in the Philippines, says sugarcane has 14% sugar content, sweet
sorghum has 23% (thesweetsorghuminitiative.wordpress.com).
You don’t entertain the idea of eating sweet sorghum like you eat corn? No
problem. If you are in India, you may be able to eat chicken and eat sweeter.
That’s because the chicken wing you have in your hand may have come from a
bird fed with sweet sorghum. Not necessarily tasting sweeter in the sense of
sugar, but tasting nicer, more delicious. Satisfaction guaranteed.
It is as if I have seen it myself. I read in her 2005 annual report that the
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (icrisat) has a
project titled ‘Exploring marketing opportunities through a research, industry and
users coalition: sorghum poultry feed.’ The report says (pages 16-17) that the
coalition comprised icrisat, the Acharya ng Ranga Agricultural University
(angrau), Federation of Farmers Associations (ffa), Andhra Pradesh Poultry
Federation (appf), and Janaki Feeds. The aim: replace expensive corn in the
First, small farmers from 4 villages of Mahabubnagar and Ranga Reddy districts
of Andhra Pradesh were supplied with new, improved sweet sorghum seeds from
icrisat in 2003. Satisfaction gained: The harvests impressed the project partners
and farmers themselves. Noting their enthusiasm, icrisat supplied seeds in 2004
to more than 500 small farmers from 12 villages. From the harvests, the sorghum
grains went into new feed formulations for poultry. The feed trials were done on
broilers (Cobb chicks) and layers (ilr 90 Jubilee birds). Results? (1) Better – The
sorghum-feed broilers and layers had comparable body weights and their feed
costs were lower than the corn-feed broilers. (2) And Better – Except for a paler
yolk, the sweet sorghum layers did as well as the corn layers in body weight
gains and eggs produced, at lower cost.
Team icrisat has been able to tell this double-sweet bird story as a product of
what it calls the ‘coalition approach,’ whereby partners ‘work together right from
the project conception stage to the concluding stage towards a common goal
with synergistic effect.’ That’s easier said than done; it is to the credit of the
Team as well as the Team Captain, William Dar, their Director General, that the
bigger team of icrisat + angrau + ffa + appf + Janaki Feeds had been successful
with sweet sorghum grains as corn substitute in feeds for poultry.