Finally, a sorghum for people who normally can't grow sorghum! Gaolian Voskovidnyj is a day-neutral grain variety especially suited to more northern and colder climates. In fact, this is one of the fastest-ripening sorghums we've ever grown (and we've grown a lot of sorghums!) — maturing in as little as 75 days.
The history of this sorghum is murky, but we will present what is known thus far. “Gaolian” in Mandarin means “sorghum,” which means it likely originated in China. However, stock seed for this variety came from the USDA (as PI 326289), which received it from the former Soviet Union's N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry in 1968. The Soviets also referred to it as “K-814” (isn't it remarkable that even at the height of the Cold War such exchanges were taking place?). Available records indicate that it was part of a collection of sorghum varieties donated but with no further description provided to shed additional light on its origin, usage, etc. We’re pretty sure the rest of its name provides some clues to its use: the Russian word "voskovidnyj" translates to "waxy" — and agronomists do classify some special sorghums as "waxy," so we expect this is one such variety.
If this variety is indeed a "waxy sorghum," this is significant because these sorghums' grains are more efficient fermenters compared to most other sorghums (this is due to easier gelatinization and low viscosity during liquefaction, higher starch and protein digestibility, higher free amino nitrogen content, and shorter fermentation times, according to a 2010 study published in the journal Cereal Chemistry). Fermented sorghum grain produces the world's most widely consumed liquor — on account of China’s large population — called "baijiu." It can also be fermented into ethanol biofuel, and waxy sorghum has similar reported ethanol yields to corn (2.8 gallons per bushel), which is currently the main source of ethanol for biofuel. For all of you science nerds out there, the reason behind these special qualities of waxy sorghum comes down to the starch in the endosperm of the grain: Most sorghum starch is composed of roughly 70-80% amylopectin and 20-30% amylose, while waxy sorghum starch is almost completely composed of amylopectin, with amylose ranging from zero to just 15%. Recent studies point to the need for much more research into and breeding of waxy sorghum varieties.
But beyond its possible use as a source of alcohol or biofuel, this sorghum is a great food option for both people and animals (we believe the pale color indicates this is a relatively low-tannin variety, which makes it a more nutritious option for livestock as tannins can cause anti-nutritive effects). This variety is easily hand-threshed and since the seeds are smaller than average, they cook more quickly. Because this variety can mature over a relatively short season, it’s a great option for northern climates and cooler climates where most sorghums fail to thrive. This seed, for instance, was grown for us by our dear friend Chris Homanics of Head, Hands, Heart Nursery and Seed in Washington state — a state where most farmers wouldn't even attempt to grow sorghum.
Plants grow about 7 feet tall and produce relatively small heads of grain. The grain is a dull yellow in color. Plants do benefit from irrigation, but can be dry farmed. True to form, this seed has been produced in dry farm conditions with no supplemental irrigation. Chris’s plants matured well before the rainy fall season began.
We just love sorghum, and we're proud to have introduced a few varieties in this country (like 'Coral,' 'Kassaby,' 'Korjaj,' and 'Allu Jola') which have quickly become so popular that other seed companies are now growing and selling them. We have every reason to believe that this one will follow in their footsteps!