Small Farmer's Journal

or Subscribe

Popping potential of sorghum

Is a new snack coming to a theater near you?

Eating popcorn has long been synonymous with watching movies. But soon you might find yourself reaching for another popped snack option—popped sorghum.

Sorghum is a cereal grain that is becoming more popular in the United States because it’s gluten free and nutritious. Compared to popcorn, popped sorghum kernels are smaller in size. But they are no less tasty according to Nicholas Ace Pugh, a researcher in Bill Rooney’s laboratory in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University. However, more needs to be known about the best sorghum for popping.

Here, popcorn has an advantage. Growers have bred popcorn specifically for its popping capacity. However, sorghum’s popping potential hadn’t previously been promoted. There is a wide variety of genotypes, or genetic lines,of sorghum, and those specific qualities still need to be pondered.

Pugh was in pursuit. To look at the genotypes available, he planted 130 different varieties of sorghum. He also wanted to know what environments are best for growing popping sorghum. So he planted all of the varieties in three different environments. Once the plants had grown and were harvested, Pugh and his team got to popping!

But how do you pop sorghum in a scientifically useful way? First, they analyzed the characteristics of each of the different varieties of sorghum and measured the hardness of the kernels. Then they counted out 500 kernels of each variety and measured the sample’s volume. Those 500 kernel samples were heated in hot air poppers.

Originally, Pugh had planned on using ordinary air poppers. “Unfortunately, these poppers are not made for sorghum: it kept flying out of the machine!” Pugh had to outfit the poppers with wire mesh to keep the sorghum inside the devices.

With seeds safely contained in the poppers, Pugh and his team heated the kernels for two minutes and 15 seconds. Just like home popcorn poppers have observed, there were sorghum kernels that refused to pop. The team counted the number of unpopped kernels, and measured the volume of the popped kernels. All of this data demonstrated the level of popping success: percent of popped kernels and the popped volume.

The findings suggests nature may have the final say. “I was pretty surprised by just how large of a role that environment and its effect on genotype played!” Pugh says. “The results essentially showed that the environment that sorghum is grown in is perhaps one of the largest factors in determining how it will pop.”

The best environment for popping sorghum? In this experiment, the sorghum grown in Halfway, Texas popped the best. Pugh thinks this is because Halfway had the lowest average humidity. Less humidity could mean less mold on the grain. Less mold could mean less damage to the grain. And less damage to the grain could mean better popping!

Of the different varieties, the sorghum that performed the best was RIL #65, also known as “Sorg Pop.” Sorg Pop performed consistently in all three environments.

But Pugh is not satisfied with proclaiming Sorg Pop the prizewinner just yet. “It was clear from these findings that popping is highly complex in sorghum and is likely influenced by several more traits that I didn’t get to examine.”

And what does a researcher do with 390 batches of popped sorghum? “Well, you can certainly eat it. It has a fun miniature size and the taste is delicious! Of course, I might be a bit biased,” Pugh says.

Pugh has already started working on a follow-up study, so the popping continues.

Read more about Pugh’s work in Crop Science.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 3

Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

How To Get Into Farming With No Money

by:
from issue:

Let’s assume the beginning ‘farmer’ has absolutely nothing. Nothing but a will to farm and a reasonably normal body. The very first thing you must do is search out a farmer, preferably a farmer who farms close to the way that you want to farm. You must watch him, ask questions, do as you are told and learn everything you can. Very shortly you will be on your own and you will find that the more you learn now, the better you will be when you have only yourself to rely on.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

by:
from issue:

One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

by:
from issue:

At the same time that U.S. commercial beekeeping is circling down in a death spiral, hobby beekeeping is booming and almost every beekeeping club in the country has at least twice as many members as it did twenty years ago. What this means is that if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with relatively clean and varied sources of pollen and nectar, the potential for a successful family-sized commercial apiary is better now than it has been for many decades.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

by:
from issue:

The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

by:
from issue:

Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

by:
from issue:

How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

Journal Guide