Sorghum: a crop of the future?

On his 200 hectares scattered around Ayguevives, in the Haute-Garonne, Eric Zambon multiplies the crops: durum wheat, soft wheat, rapeseed, sunflower, lentils and… sorghum. This plant of African origin is the fifth most cultivated cereal in the world. It is also growing in temperate regions where the climate is warming. In France, it was for the first time here, in the Lauragais, a few kilometers from Toulouse, that the cultivation of sorghum was established.

“Sorghum is not new. My father started growing it around 1970-75 until the 1980s. Then he gradually replaced it with sunflower, which was, it must be said, also economically more attractive. There was a better margin, which explains why sorghum has disappeared from the industry for at least fifteen or 20 years, “recalls Eric Zambon.

On the 200 hectares he cultivates, Eric Zambon has reintroduced sorghum
On the 200 hectares he cultivates, Eric Zambon has reintroduced sorghum

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Slight increase in prices, improved seeds that allow cultivation later than before – and therefore without compromising subsequent harvests: this convinced Eric Zambon to replant some sorghum ten years ago. The cereal also has a quality that is of great interest in these times of drought.
Lsorghum requires less water than maize and adapts very well to slopes. It can also be done very well in the plains, with a little irrigation. After that, we won’t get phenomenal corn yieldsL ”, continues the farmer
Therefore, quality, but not a miraculous solution, also tempers Jean-Luc Verdier, head of the sorghum sector at the Arvalis Agricultural Technical Institute.
Sorghum, in fact, is known for its ability to better tolerate water stress, that is, the lack of water. But this resistance remains relative: we experienced an extreme year of 2022 in terms of climate constraints and there we could see that sorghum, in these extreme situations, also suffered from a water deficit. I don’t think it should be positioned as an alternative. One of the pillars of agroecology is crop diversity. Farmers must have sufficient crops to be able to alternate and have sufficiently diversified rotations. And in this context, sorghum may be part of the answer. But we must not imagine that with sorghum we will revolutionize arable crops and solve everything to cope with the whims of a climatic or economic order. The best solution is not to put all the eggs in the same basket to try to have greater plasticity, greater resilience in the face of the climate “.
However, this is what explains the growing interest in this cereal now grown more and more in the north, up to Indre-et-Loire and even in Picardy. For Eric Zambon, it’s a way of adapting.
“In the past we used to shoot a lot of durum wheat, sunflower, durum wheat, sunflower. From now on it fluctuates so much that all the colleagues do so many cultures because we don’t know what will happen anymore, so it makes an average. And that extends risk taking. There used to be no outlets. So it is true that we now make gluten-free flour, we can also make beer or whiskey with sorghum. There are many outlets: it is gradually becoming more democratic

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But these uses remain limited. Today, sorghum produced in France is mainly used for animal feed and is most often exported. Especially in Spain. There is no real market in France yet, but for

Vincent Bos, buyer and seller of cereals at the Lauragais Regional Agricultural Cooperative, could happen quickly. The climate change we know is likely to work in sorghum’s favor. The problem with sorghum today is that the volumes produced are small. However, a food producer needs a regular supply. Due to the yields of sorghum which are not huge, many feed producers still do not incorporate it throughout the year. “

This is not the explosion: in 2020 about 100,000 hectares, or 5% of the area used for agricultural production, were covered by sorghum in France. But interest in this cereal is growing. Sorgho ID, the professional, also works to promote a sector. But its development will require some quick changes, but that’s it The development will require some changes, emphasizes Jean-Luc Verdier. “ It would take a little more economic return to interest producers more. There is also a need for a little more innovation, for improving varieties that allow for a bit of yield from one year to the next and for these investments in genetic progress to be more destined for larger crops than for smaller crops, because in fact there is not the same return on investment. **: ** Today sorghum is still sold much less than corn, on average 10 euros less per ton. Price is certainly one of the main levers to affirm this culture in France in the long term.

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