November 30, 2000 | By: Laura Skillman

The sweet taste of sorghum syrup has long been a tasty treat enjoyed by Kentuckians. Interest in making the product is seeing a resurgence.

Sweet sorghum, made from cane sorghum, has been produced in the United States since colonial days. Kentucky and Tennessee make most of the product, said Morris Bitzer, University of Kentucky Extension grain crops specialist.

In the 1800s, Kentucky farms grew as much as 21,000 acres of sorghum, but the acreage dwindled in the 1900s to fewer than 500 acres in the early 1970s. But since then, the sweet syrup is on the comeback.

Sorghum is made from 100 percent pure juice extracted from sorghum cane. The green juice is cleansed of impurities and concentrated in open pans over heat into a clear, amber syrup.

Sorghum is eaten as a syrup or can be used as a sweetener. It contains calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorus.

Bitzer, executive secretary of the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association, said he receives many calls from people today interested in producing sweet sorghum.

Most sorghum is produced by relatively small or intermediate sized producers who sell locally, often from their farm. Marketing is the most difficult part for producers who want to make enough to sell off-farm, Bitzer said.

Sorghum can be a profitable venture considering that an acre is capable of netting the producer more than $2,000. It was already making a comeback, but as farmers watched tobacco production drop, interest in sorghum escalated.

"As far as I'm concerned it's one of the better alternatives," Bitzer said.

Sorghum offers a good profit and isn't as risky as other ventures, he said.

A producer would have to spend between $15,000 to $20,000 for the equipment and facilities needed to begin sorghum production. Bitzer recommends that anyone interested in sorghum-making should start small.

The cooking process is the biggest factor in quality. If not closely monitored, the syrup can scorch, ruining the batch.

Wood was once the fuel source for cooking the sorghum, but today petroleum fuels are being used by most producers. Steam is the ideal method for heating.

For more information on sweet sorghum contact your county Cooperative Extension Service and ask for publications AGR-122 and AGR- 123. You can also access the NSSPPA at their web site


Morris Bitzer, (859) 257-3975