I remember being in Kansas
one time and seeing fields growing
with a plant I'd never seen before. Now, of course, I grew up in a large
city in the Eastern United States. When I asked someone what it was, they
looked at me like I was a prize idiot. I eventually found out that the
plant was "milo" or grain sorghum.
Later, during a trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, what did I see
in a field along the highway but the same plant!
Grain sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world.
It originated in Africa and has a different name in every place it is grown:
In the United States
, Milo is the fourth largest (legal) crop. It is
used primarily for cattle and hog feed.
Although the amount of milo planted will change with crop prices and
other circumstances, a recent peak was 1996, where U.S. farmers harvested
803,000,000 bushels of milo, worth about $2 billion dollars.
Gaoliang is grown on the North China Plain and in Manchuria. Chinese
farmers harvested 6.1 million metric tons of gaoliang in 1993. This was
used for for animal feed and liquor. Gaoliang stems are used for paper
and roofing material.
It is grown in areas where more profitable crops (such as corn
or rice) cannot be grown. Since Milo usually brings higher prices than
wheat in the United States, you will find milo in moderately dry areas,
such as the Great Plains, or areas where the soil will not reliably support
corn production, such as the Delmarva Peninsula. Remember that farmers
may try different things in different places.
Grain Sorghum is an odd-looking plant. At first it looks like a stunted
corn plant, or even a tobacco plant (although you have to be driving
by pretty fast to mistake it for tobacco). In midsummer, a stalk bearing
tassels and eventually seeds rises out of the leaves. This stalk grows
to 6-8 feet for milo and about 12 feet for gaoliang.