Increasing the Sustainability of Our Farm by Learning how to Best Produce Sorghum Molasses

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $7,224.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Ron Rushly
Little Dixie Family Farm

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: sorghum (milo)
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, parasite control, feed formulation, feed rations, grazing management, manure management, mineral supplements, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, watering systems
  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, marketing management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: grass waterways, hedgerows
  • Pest Management: competition, physical control, mulching - plastic, traps
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, soil analysis, composting, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Little Dixie Family Farm is doing research to find the best planting date, best plant population, and best harvest time for sorghum molasses production in Missouri.


    Our farm consists of 112 acres. My Grandfather bought 60 of those acres in 1925. I took over farming the place in 1971. We milked cows until 1990 and then rented out the farming ground several years later. I had become very discouraged with farming, even though I have always wanted to make our living from the farm. Fence building was our major means of making a living during most the last 22 years.


    In the spring of 2009 our family became really interested in gardening. That interest led us to call the Extension Office about planting strawberries. That is when we met Jeff Yearington, our Lincoln University Agent [Lincoln University Cooperative Extension (LUCE) Farm Outreach Worker]. Jeff’s encouragement led us to plants 1500 strawberry plants in the spring of 2010. We harvested strawberries from those plants in the spring of 2011. We also planted 6000 more strawberry plants and some other crops including about 1/3 acre of sweet sorghum for making molasses. Even though the year was very hot and dry, the sorghum grew really well. We harvested and processed nearly 70 gallons of molasses from that 1/3 acre. We used a horse press with our draft mare, Sadie, to squeeze the cane and cooked it with a wood fire and really had fun doing all that hard work. Sorghum molasses is a crop that has really excited my interest in farming again. We are looking forward to the strawberry harvest next spring. Strawberries are so perishable that it is nice to have something else, like molasses that keeps almost indefinitely.



    Making money on a small farm is always a great concern. Value added crops are a necessity to make enough money to live, on limited acres with older and more inefficient tractors and machinery. Our experiment with sorghum molasses this year has led us to believe that it is a good crop to increase cash flow as well as provide a more healthful product for our own sweet tooth. Sorghum molasses is a very labor intensive product. We have 19 children, 10 still being at home: Sarah 19, Noah 17, Catherine 15, Ruby 13, Phillip 11, Robin 9, Hiram 7, Royal 5, Timothy 3, and Malachi 1. So we have the labor force that is needed and will have for several years to come. I have som ideas on how to retrofit machinery to streamline molasses production to make more molasses to sell and to utilize the forage and grain byproducts of the molasses production.


    We plan to do testing to determine optimum planting date, plant population, and harvest time. We are going to weigh and test for sugar yield at different stages of grain development. We will also test for forage and grain yield and quality. Our sorghum field is adjacent to Kauffman Road, which is an asphalt road with high traffic and we intend to put up signage to let people know what we are doing and to have field days and school field trips to get people interested in sorghum molasses. We will work on cooking classes and recipe books to promote the use sorghum molasses as a healthier sweetener.



    There has been almost no research on sorghum molasses production in our area. Most molasses production is in the south, but the crop grows well in our area. We want to determine the best planting time, plant population, and harvest time. We also want to work on a streamlined production system. WE intend to do this by creating a test plot on our farm. We are dedicating about two acres to this project. The soil is very consistent in this plot and we plan to fertilize to soil test recommendations and make three plantings at 7 to 10 day intervals from May 15 to June 10. The middle planting (around May 25) will be the planting where we plant at three different populations in three different strips. We will harvest at three stages of development: milk, dough, and mature grain. This will make 36 different samples. We will weight and test the juice from each sample for sugar content. We will cook down the juice to molasses and test for quality, taste, and yield. The forage from each sample will be chopped and sealed in plastic barrels and tested after it has ensiled. We will also weigh and test the grain to determine yield and quality. Obviously the molasses is the most valuable part of the production, however designing a system to use the entire sorghum plant makes the project more satisfying as well as more profitable.



    Jeff Yearington, our Lincoln University Extension Agent is an important part of our plans; he knows people who might be interested in our project. He is also skilled in putting together workshops and field days, which we want to do as much of as possible. Susan Mills-Gray, Missouri University Extension, will be helpful with the nutrition part of the project. We will be open to school field trips and will try to build an interesting program for the children to explain to them in a way that they can understand, the process of growing a crop. We will put together a MAKING SORGHUM MOLASSES coloring book to give to each of the children with their milk and molasses cookie at the end of the field trip. We will always be available to talk to anyone who is interested. We would like to have a “Fall Harvest Celebration” to mark the end of the sorghum harvest.



    At the end of this project we should have valuable information about when to plant and harvest sorghum for molasses. Anytime we can grow and process something that replaces “store bought products” we are becoming more sustainable. There is always the possibility that a project takes off and makes a real impact for the good of a community. Our hope would be that Cass County would become the Sorghum Molasses Capitol of the World. That probably won’t happen, but producing molasses has improved the life of our family and I believe that it can and will help others.


    We will check on these results by sales of our sorghum products, recipe requests, field trip response, seed sales and production help requests, as well as attendance at workshops.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.