Last week, the U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC’s) India office, in conjunction with the United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP) and the National Sorghum Producers (NSP), conducted an exploratory trade mission to India, participating in meetings in six cities over the span of five days. The meetings focused on creating opportunities for U.S. sorghum for human consumption, industrial starch extraction, feed grain applications and ethanol production.
India is facing a potential coarse grain shortage brought on by its growing demographic, below-average monsoon rains and growing corn consumption for animal feed and industrial uses. End users of coarse grains in all forms are looking for consistent opportunities to secure increasingly scarce raw materials. Current Indian import bans of genetically modified (GM) ingredients and a deep cultural history of sorghum use indicate potential for U.S. sorghum to remedy increasing coarse grain scarcity in the most populous country on earth.
“India’s historical use of sorghum in human diets and familiarity with its nutritional benefits provide ample opportunities for inclusion in India’s burgeoning snack food market,” said Jace Hefner, USGC manager of global trade.
The delegation conducted a full analysis of the Indian food sorghum market and supply chain, including visits with small-scale farmers cultivating jowar (Indian sorghum), as well exploring opportunities for inclusion in higher-end food products.
U.S. sorghum’s unique tannin-free characteristics were of particular interest to the Indian feed manufacturing industry. The high tannin content of Indian jowar has historically limited its use in animal feed, and the Indian feed industry is unaware of U.S. sorghum’s differentiating value. The delegation’s educational efforts surrounding U.S. sorghum’s status as a high-quality feedstock will ideally lead to inclusion in India’s rapidly expanding animal feed industry.
The team also spent time touring a starch processing plant, where they were able to present prior research funded by USCP. The research, conducted at the University of Illinois, showcases sorghum’s superior starch yields compared to Indian corn, which is currently the sole raw material for Indian starch manufacturers.
On the final day, the team promoted U.S. sorghum’s use in ethanol manufacturing. India is currently facing many environmental challenges and has recently mandated an E20 blend policy to be achieved by 2025/2026. To achieve this goal, India is looking for feedstocks that are not only affordable, but that also minimize environmental impacts.
“Sorghum stands out as a low-carbon feedstock with several key attributes that make it an ideal choice for sustainable ethanol production in India,” Hefner said. “Sorghum’s lower requirements for water consumption, minimal fertilizer needs, and low-carbon production requirements make it a desirable solution to support India’s climate goals through renewable fuels.”
By capitalizing on these characteristics, the use of sorghum as a low-carbon feedstock for ethanol production aligns with India’s push toward sustainable agriculture and increased environmental stewardship.
The Council will continue to share with India’s industry leaders the merits of U.S. sorghum inclusion across all applicable sectors.
“This was a great first step toward securing opportunities for U.S. sorghum in the Indian market. We saw several instances where sorghum’s value proposition has potential to deliver solutions, and we are excited to see what the future has in store,” said Norma Ritz Johnson, USCP executive director.