Sorghum Culture

By: J. Roy Quinby

Type: General Entry

Published: July 1, 1995

Sorghum is not native to the Western Hemisphere, but was introduced into the Caribbean area from Africa two or three centuries ago. From the Caribbean, varieties of tropical adaptation reached the United States often as broomcorn, which Benjamin Franklin introduced to the United States in 1725, and more important for Texas, as milo, introduced by Colombian missionary H. B. Pratt in 1879. Grain sorghum did not become an important crop until about 100 years ago, and by that time farmers had already selected temperately adapted strains that were short enough to be harvested conveniently by hand. The sorghum species includes grass, forage, and grain varieties. In India and Africa sorghum grain is grown for human food and in Africa is also used to make beer. In Texas sorghum is primarily grown as forage for cattle, sheep, and horses and as grain to feed cattle, sheep, swine, horses, and poultry.

Before mechanization of agricultural production in the 1930s, sorghum was grown on about a third of the farm acreage in western Texas to feed horses and mules. After mechanization, when little grain was needed for work animals, government acreage controls allowed for the production of grain sorghum on retired acres, and grain sorghum became a cash crop like wheat and cotton. As combines came into use to harvest wheat, sorghum breeding reduced the height of the varieties grown, hand harvesting ceased, and the grain sorghum crop was harvested with combines. Sorghum sudan grass, according to the quantity of seed planted, is grown on more acres in Texas than grain sorghum, though the acreage of sorghum planted for grain expanded to five million or six million acres following the mechanization of harvesting. In the 1940s sorghum became the leading cereal crop in the state for the first time. The sorghum crop is important in the Rio Grande valley, in the coastal bend, on the blacklands from San Antonio to Greenville, on the Rolling Plains, on the South Plains, and in the Panhandle. In South Texas the crop is planted in February or March and harvested in July or August. In the Panhandle sorghum is planted as late as June 10 and harvested just before or after the first killing freeze in the fall.

Hybrid sorghums became a reality in Texas after about thirty years of research through the combined efforts of Arthur B. Connor, Robert Karper, Joseph C. Stephens, and J. Roy Quinby, scientists with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the United States Department of Agriculture. After the advent of hybrids, the grain sorghum crop in the United States increased from 200 million bushels in 1956 to 900 million bushels in the early 1980s, when Texas consistently ranked first or second in the country and accounted for 30 to 40 percent of the national sorghum grain production. In this period sorghum grain was second only to cotton in value of production. Increasing grain production has given impetus to the cattle-feeding industry in the Panhandle and the South Plains. Texas feeds more cattle now than any other state, and grain sorghum is an important part of the feed. As of 1992 Sorghum grain was still second in value of crops in Texas. In 1992 total production had a value of $571,950,000.

J. Roy Quinby et al., Grain Sorghum Production in Texas (College Station: Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1958). J. Roy Quinby, "Hybrid Sorghum: A Triumph of Research," in Southwestern Agriculture, Pre-Columbian to Modern, ed. Henry C. Dethloff and Irvin M. May, Jr. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982). J. Roy Quinby, Interview by Irvin M. May, Jr., and R. D. Lewis, April 7, 1976, Transcript, Texas A&M University Archives, College Station.
  • Agriculture
  • Products (Plant)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

J. Roy Quinby, “Sorghum Culture,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995