Sweet Sorghum as an Ethanol Feedstock in Western Nebraska – Could It Happen?

It has been proposed that non-irrigated sweet sorghum might be grown in western Nebraska as a seasonal substitute for corn grain in corn ethanol plants. In the research summarized here1, we examine the economic feasibility of this possibility, based on the technical data that are currently available about sweet sorghum production.

As we report below, at current nominal prices and technology, the sweet sorghum ethanol pathway is barely a break-even prospect. But if we consider the extra value of sweet sorghum ethanol over corn ethanol due to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), new benefits to farmers ($14/ac) and plants ($0.06/gal) would be sufficient to warrant investing in the pathway, if it were not for the market and political risks associated with the RFS. Alternatively, if expected sweet sorghum yields could be increased by 30% over our estimate of 20t/ac, similar levels of return could be realized, making adoption by some plants likely. These results are summarized in Table 1.