- Agronomic: sorghum (sweet)
- Animal Production: feed/forage
- Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, varieties and cultivars
- Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, farmers' markets/farm stands, value added
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities
Sorghum syrup is a natural and delicious value-added product with a good shelf life and excellent nutritional benefits. It is possible to grow sweet sorghum in northern Indiana, but there are challenges to address in order for more small-scale farmers to succeed. Many in northern Indiana were once familiar with raising sorghum for making sorghum syrup, though the tradition has become rare outside of Amish circles. Older folks recall the tradition, though generally don’t recall practical agronomy details, nor do they regularly use sorghum syrup as a sweetener. Additionally, markets for the syrup product have changed, along with marketing methods and targets.
Several challenges in particular need to be addressed:
- The scale of a sorghum patch that a small farmer can grow to efficiently make enough syrup to sell.
- Determining the current market for organic, non-GMO sorghum syrup in our region, identify the customer base and the price base for the product, and developing new regional markets.
- Determining which sorghum crop varieties work well for small-scale syrup production in northern Indiana.
- The current lack of equipment, infrastructure and knowledge for evaporating and processing cane juice into syrup products, and how this need can be addressed cooperatively among farmers in order to reduce costs.
- The critical labor period for within-the-row weeding in the summer, and for fall harvest, and the most efficient method(s) to address the labor issue.
- Lack of critical agronomic information in the region, including how and when to get seed in the ground on time in spring to ensure sorghum has a long enough season to properly mature before first frost.
As a group of small farmers, we wish to work together to pose solutions to these challenges. These will include:
- Visit Amish farms regionally and sorghum farmers in another region (likely in the upper South… Kentucky, Tennessee) to observe growing practices, product quality tips, and marketing; join the National Sweet Sorghum Producers and Processors Association to gain access to information and outreach opportunities and events;
- Trial several sweet sorghum varieties replicated at each of our cooperating farm.
- Together hire and share a part-time intern who will collect crop and inputs data, monitor crop trials on each farm, and coordinate activities and volunteers for work days and field days.
- Together hire a part-time marketing contractor, to research existing market outlets, help to create bulletins, photos, and other marketing outreach on social and print media, and develop new regional markets (possibly in the restaurant and craft brewery field) for sorghum syrup.
- Evaluate sweet sorghum varieties, and save seeds to share with other farms.
- Rent access to a local sorghum press, and if necessary, upgrade and/or repair the press, or purchase a sorghum press for cooperative sharing.
- Retrofit or build a small-scale outdoor processing area for cane pressing and evaporation that is food safe and replicable
- Experiment with evaporation and product filtering processes, and try to standardize quality to produce a superior syrup product.
- Generate a seasonal bulletin, a social media video, and how-to guide for northern Indiana farmers and homesteaders with agronomic and product finishing tips.
- Partner with local high school FFA groups, county Purdue Extension, and others in the community to teach about local sorghum syrup production.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Investigate the optimum scale for profitably growing, harvesting, pressing and processing sweet sorghum cane on small plots, and to develop new local and regional markets for sorghum syrup in Northern Indiana.
- Increase economic stability for farmers in our region by working out the ways in which sweet sorghum can fit into the production area and timetable of farmers in our region, adding another high-value crop with a product that is shelf stable and can be sold in periods when few other products are available for farmers to sell.
- Benefit the environment through diversification of farms and increase water conservation and drought mitigation through the unique traits of the crop.
- Rebuild and strengthen networks of collaboration between farmers in our region by sharing labor at crucial periods (early weeding, harvest, processing).