Virginia’s pork production legacy is well-known, but recently, the heavy demand for corn grain across industries, as well as in nonfood-producing endeavors such as ethanol production, has reduced profits for hog producers.
“A lot of the Mid-Atlantic States are grain-deficit, and they have to import grain to feed their livestock,” said Gordon Groover, Extension economist and associate professor of agricultural and applied economics.
An increased demand for corn, both domestically and abroad, has increased total costs for end uses of corn. This — coupled with higher energy costs for transporting grain from the corn-belt states — has reduced the profitability of feeding hogs in Virginia.
But Virginia Tech researchers are exploring ways to boost the state’s grain production, which will reduce the need to import grain for the swine industry.
That increase in grain supply may not come from corn — but from sorghum.
A research partnership with Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, is evaluating the viability of incorporating sorghum into the mix of crops farmers grow and the grains they feed their animals.
Extension researchers are helping to answer many questions, including the challenge of transporting, storing, and drying sorghum; soil affinity for the crop; and how to fit it into a crop rotation.
“Increasing grain production means we keep the hog industry in the state,” said Wade Thomason, Extension grain specialist and associate professor of crop and soil environmental sciences. “It could mean that if there is expansion, it happens here instead of Iowa.”
Tests conducted last year found that sorghum has 95 percent of the energy value of corn, according to Maria Balota, assistant professor of crop physiology and the principal investigator on the project.
Balota, who performs her research at the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk, participates in several growers meetings each year to talk with farmers about sorghum varieties and production. Currently, several sorghum hybrids in Virginia yield more than 80 bushels per acre.
Given the increased demand for pork products, the sorghum research currently being conducted through Extension initiatives may just keep farmers in Virginia in the green — and the pink.