Grain sorghum well received in California trial

By Susanne Retka Schill | December 07, 2012

Chromatin Inc. announced a successful grain sorghum trial for both a California ethanol producer and new sorghum grower. Using sorghum seed provided by Chicago-based Chromatin, L and R Mussi Farms of Stockton, Calif., produced 40 acres of sorghum that was harvested and delivered to Pacific Ethanol’s plant in Stockton.

"During the third quarter, Pacific Ethanol used sorghum for approximately 30 percent of the feedstock at our Stockton plant,” said Neil Koehler, Pacific Ethanol CEO. “Blended with corn, sorghum has similar conversion properties to corn and produces even lower-carbon ethanol." While sorghum imported from other regions has been used in California ethanol plants in the past, Chromatin’s program is the first instance of supplying locally grown grain to the Pacific Ethanol plant, resulting in greater cost efficiency and an improved carbon footprint, Chromatin said in its announcement.

With farming in the Central Valley dependent upon irrigation, sorghum’s agronomic requirements are a plus for growers as well. “We were pleasantly surprised by sorghum’s flexibility. It’s a high-yielding, easy-to-grow crop regardless of environmental conditions, and it uses less fertilizer and less water than corn,” said Rudy Mussi co-owner of Mussi Farms.

“Sorghum works well where water is expensive or limited,” said John Fulcher, director of business development for Chromatin. Sorghum’s water requirements are less than half that of corn, plus it has lower nutrient requirements, making it attractive in areas where those input costs are relatively higher. The lower input costs, which can range between $100 and $200 less, offsets sorghum’s lower yields when compared to corn—generally places where corn yields are less than 150 bushels per acre, he said, or where water is the limiting factor. Chromatin sells its varieties in sorghum-growing areas through its subsidiary, Sorghum Partners. “California is a new market for us,” Fulcher added.

With the U.S. EPA approving a grain sorghum fuel pathway,California ethanol producers are taking a closer look at the feedstock. For those willing to convert to biogas and combined heat and power, EPA has also said grain sorghum-ethanol will qualify as an advanced biofuel earning D5 RINs. That could provide an incentive to find ways to use vegetative waste and dairy manure from California’s agricultural producers for biobased power, Fulcher said.

“We were pleased to see that growers were able to plant and produce high quality sorghum with minimal modifications to their current practices and that ethanol plants encountered no difficulties in substituting sorghum for corn,” commented Daphne Preuss, Chromatin’s CEO. “In addition, Chromatin has shown that the residue left over after the harvest of sorghum grain can be used as high quality animal feed, further enhancing the output from the land used in production of this crop.”

Chromatin expects to increase the acres of sorghum grown in California this coming year and involve more ethanol producers in building a market for the feedstock, Fulcher added.