'Rahmetalla Gallabat' Sorghum
'Rahmetalla Gallabat' Sorghum

'Rahmetalla Gallabat' Sorghum

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Sorghum bicolor subsp. bicolor

Origin: Kassala, Sudan

Improvement status: Cultivar

Seeds per packet: ~50

Germination tested 11/2023: 75%

Life cycle: Annual

EFN INTRODUCTION. This is a wonderful dual-use sorghum — grain and cane — from the town of Kassala in eastern Sudan, known as Sudan's Yosemite for the otherworldly stone mountains just outside of town. This variety produces easily hand-threshed grains on tall, sweet canes. It is a somewhat long-season sorghum, but it should mature in all but the most northern parts of the United States. It does not seem to be day-length sensitive, but may be sensitive to rain patterns (as Sudan has a somewhat regular rainy-season/dry-season pattern). These seeds came to us from the USDA, and were grown out for us by our friend Edmund Frost of Common Wealth Seed Growers in Louisa, Virginia. A plant explorer by the name of Carl O. Grassl collected the seeds.

Grassl was in Sudan in December of 1945 as part of a massive USDA collection program. The original aim of the program, delayed by World War II, was to find varieties for crossing with the common sweet sorghums of the time. Those were good for syrup, but the stalk juice didn't crystallize well, so it wasn't a viable alternative to sugarcane or beets, and the USDA hoped to find or create varieties with sugar that would crystallize.

During the war, expeditions to Africa looking for sorghum germplasm took on renewed urgency as millions of gallons of alcohol were produced from sorghum for use in the production of explosives, but with yields that didn't meet expectations. A sorghum breeding program was then seen as critical to national security.

A sugar expert called E.W. Brandes led an expedition to Ethiopia while the war still raged, at the end of 1943. The 80 varieties he brought back ultimately produced promising dual-use sugar/alcohol sorghum, but by then the war was over. Grassl's post-war expedition across sub-Saharan Africa yielded over 1000 varieties, more than 500 of which are still maintained by the USDA. Believe it or not, these are a drop in the bucket in terms of overall sorghum diversity in Africa. Tantalizingly, these and many other sorghums collected by the USDA over the decades since the war have been neither studied nor bred to the extent envisioned by men like Grassl and Brandes, who risked death by Luftwaffe to find them.

We are excited to be releasing this variety to American growers for the first time — as we did years ago with our favorite sorghum, 'Coral' (from Malakal, South Sudan). We have every expectation that this variety will join 'Coral' as a must-grow for people who love sorghum as much as we do.

GROWING TIPS: At the beginning of nice warm weather (for us in South Jersey this is early May to early June), direct seed 1/4 inch deep in rows 2 feet apart. Thin to one plant every 12-15 inches.