US sorghum exports to China hit 19-year high

Updated: 2015-01-01 09:59

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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New USDA data shows that US exports of sorghum to China reached a 19-year high in one week last month to meet Chinese demand for cheaper alternatives to corn for livestock feed, US sorghum experts said.

Figures released by the US Department of Agriculture on Monday showed that the US exported 584,324 metric tons of sorghum in the week ending Dec 18. Of that, 332,867 metric tons went to China, which made up more than half the total exports.

US sorghum was exported to China for the first time in October last year and the country's demand for other livestock feed options has grown since the government rejected genetically modified shipments of corn. Beijing has since approved one type of genetically-modified corn, but interest in sorghum should remain, said Wayne Cleveland, executive director of the Texas Grain Sorghum Board.

"I feel like demand will continue because the quality of sorghum is consistent. We have ample supplies to address the market and like anything we've become smarter in how we ship. The folks that are buying it and exporting it have become smarter in how they do that," he said.

China currently has a tariff rate quota (TRQ) of how much US corn can be imported into the country, which Cleveland said makes sorghum the better option for China's budget-conscious importers. After 3 million metric tons of corn is imported into the country with just value added tax, it will incur tariffs of up to 65 percent, making grain sorghum roughly $100 cheaper per metric ton.

China also has an internal buying mechanism that makes it more expensive for the government to pay domestic corn producers than to import the corn from the US. The country also doesn't grow sorghum and relies on imports from other countries.

"Sorghum requires a lot less water to grow and of course it's a non-GMO product, which was a concern that the government had," Cleveland said. "And with the China operates their internal programs for local growers, it's more profitable for their growers to grow corn than sorghum," and demand for crops from the US will continue.

Florentino Lopez, executive director of Sorghum Checkoff, said that US sorghum associations have been doing a lot of work educating the Chinese on the uses of sorghum as the country's demand for coarse grain grows.

"End users know how to utilize it in the proper fashion so they could basically get the benefits they needed to from sorghum, just like other grain crops," he said. The Sorghum Checkoff program uses funds collected from sorghum producers to promote and market the commodity.

Sorghum is also heavily used in the liquor industry in China as an ingredient in baijiu, and about one-third of sorghum going to China from the US is used in the production of alcohol.

"We believe that sorghum fits very well into end use as a feed ingredient or as a cost-effective ingredient for livestock production and ethanol production, for food production and beyond. We feel it's extremely cost-effective to utilize in any end-use situation," Lopez said.