Most U.S. farmers suffered last year as the price of well-known crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans fell.
But a few rogue farmers were lucky…
They planted an almost-forgotten crop – sorghum – which enjoyed a banner year in 2014.
Sorghum (also called milo) is known as “the camel of crops” because it doesn’t need much water and grows in soils other grains won’t. Seed and fertilizer costs for Sorghum are also lower than for other grains.
So why is this ancient grain having a revival moment?
As with many other commodities, the answer lies half a world away in China…
Seeing the Loaves Rise
The market for sorghum changed drastically in 2013 when Gun Jen Juee Agricultural Trading Company became the first Chinese firm to import U.S. sorghum into the country as a substitute for corn.
The Chinese use sorghum for both animal feed and making alcohols, such as the popular baijiu drink.
Today, sorghum exports are near a two-decade high. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts exports in the 2014–2015 crop year will hit 5.8 million tons. And a full five million tons of that crop is headed to China. Sorghum exports to China have increased 15-fold in the last year alone.
For China, sorghum now tops the list of grain imports. The appeal is obvious: It’s cheaper than corn, isn’t genetically modified, and isn’t subject to import tariffs or quotas.
So how do you take advantage of this staple’s comeback?
Harvesting the Fields
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Well, unlike with the other major grains, there’s no futures pricing for sorghum. Instead, the price of sorghum is based on the current futures price for corn.
You see, in the past, sorghum sold at a discount to corn. But this recent rise in Chinese demand has pushed sorghum prices to about a 10% premium to corn.
The good news looking ahead is that sorghum isn’t just a Chinese fad. Demand is rising here in the United States for the grain, too.
That’s because sorghum’s inherent qualities of being gluten free and not genetically modified are making it popular among food manufacturers. For example, Special K Gluten-Free Cereal from Kellogg (K) uses sorghum, as does Iams pet food, which is made by Procter & Gamble (PG).
Unless you’re a farmer or grain handler, the best way to play the sorghum boom is through the firms that are large sorghum traders. Companies like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are getting bales of business from China.
And the chase continues,