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Webster defines syrup as, "A thick, sticky solution of sugar and water".

Estimated Production and Processing Costs

Sorghum syrup made from cane sorghum is made by squeezing the juice from the cane and cooking off the excess water to obtain a sweet, sticky syrup - a delicacy in many parts of the country. It has many uses - a primary one being spread on hot biscuits at breakfast. And it is often used as a sweetener in cooking breads and other foods .

It is primarily a local crop in Georgia, 64 acres grown in two counties in North Georgia according to the 1997 U.S. Census of Agriculture. Production that year was 57,173 pounds.

But the syrup is consumed by a devoted clientele. Consequently sorghum syrup is an important source of revenue in several localities.

Given that the crop is economically significant to some farmers, and that little is known about the overall demand (and potential demand) for the syrup, this document is devoted to an estimate of the costs of growing cane and processing sorghum. Cost estimates shown here were obtained in February, 1999 from sorghum growers and processors in Union County Georgia.

The Crop is Relatively Expensive to Grow

"Labor is a Major Input"

A per acre cost estimate using traditional methods of growing and hand cutting sorghum is shown in table 1. All cost items are included (whether cash or non-cash). Over $500 of the $741 total per acre costs are associated with labor inputs.

Much of the labor is often provided by the family, for which there is no direct cash outlay. But a cost is included for all labor, as family labor is considered to have an opportunity for employment off the farm. Processing costs are not included here.

Stripping the Stalks

This cost estimate includes twenty hours of labor to strip the cane before it is cut. Most sorghum growers tell us stripping the cane prior to cutting results in higher yields of syrup - as much as thirty gallons per acre. Further, they tell us stripping the cane results in a higher quality syrup. Sixty hours of labor is allocated for cutting the cane by hand and removing the heads. For purpose of analysis, we suggest using a yield of 150 gallons per acre from stripped cane, and 125 gallons for cane not stripped.
TABLE 1. Estimated Per Acre Costs of Growing Sweet Sorghum

for Syrup; Strip and Hand Cut

Cost Item Unit Price per Unit Total Cost
1. VARIABLE COSTS (excl. Labor)
Lime 1/3 Ton $22.00 $7.33
Seed 2 lbs. 7.50 15.00
Fertilizer (5-10-15) 4 cwt. 9.00 36.00
Herbicide (pre-emerge) 1 qt. 3.00 3.00
Herbicide (post-emerge) 1 pt. 2.00 2.00
Fuel 10.2 gal. .80 8.16
Machinery Maintenance 1 Acre 27.49 27.49
Interest on Variable Costs $98.98 .09 4.45
Sub - Total  $103.43
Pre Harvest 4.3 hrs. 6.50 $27.95
Harvest 80 hrs. 6.50 520.00
Total Labor $547.95
Excluding Labor $103.43
Including Labor $651.38
Land 1 Acre 35.00 $35.00
Machinery 1 Acre 44.49 44.49
General Overhead $103.43 .05 5.17
Management $103.43 .05 5.17
Total Fixed Costs $89.83

Mechanical Cutting of Stalks

Table 2 shows the estimated costs associated with a labor saving harvest technique - that of using a corn binder to cut the stalks. This harvest system consumes 45 hours of labor and includes time allocated for stripping by hand and harvest with a binder. The heads are removed by hand. Total harvest labor for this system is just over one-half the amount required for hand harvest. Total per acre costs are only about 60% of cost associated with the hand cut harvest system.

Machinery and labor inputs for the two types of harvest systems are shown in appendix tables 1 and 2 . While some of the growers who use means other than hand labor to cut the cane do not strip the cane prior to cutting, a cost for stripping is used in both systems to make more valid cost comparisons. If the cane is not stripped, approximately twenty less hours of labor is needed.

Processing Requirements:

Capital Investment, Fuel, Containers and Labor

The Initial Investment to process sorghum syrup is relatively small when compared to other farm investments. Total initial investment is estimated to be about $14,000 (table 3). But these facilities are used for a short period of time each fall and a high level of managerial skills are required for operation. Per gallon processing costs are usually more expensive than costs of cane production.

Fuel and Containers expenditures together amount to near $3.00 per gallon of syrup. Syrup processors indicate it takes from two-to-three gallons of fuel to make one gallon of syrup. This analysis uses two gallons fuel for one gallon of syrup. Container costs are for quart jar containers.

Labor Costs Are Near Equal the Amount for Fuel and Containers. Two individuals are needed to operate the mill for squeezing the cane. At the cooking operation, two persons are necessary to put the syrup into containers, in addition to the one person who oversees the cooking operation. An estimated seventy hours of labor is used per acre of sorghum cane.

Total estimated costs for processing, per acre and per gallon (150 gallons per acre), are shown in table 4.

Total Costs for Production and Processing are combined and shown in table 5. All costs, both cash and non-cash, are estimated to be in excess of $1,700 per acre. A yield of 150 gallons per acre amounts to a per gallon cost of nearly $12.00. A lower yield per acre will make this per gallon cost higher. While many operators use self and family labor, and have less cash costs than those shown here, any returns (profits) should be divided into returns per acre and for profit. Profit is obtained after all costs have been incurred.
TABLE 2. Estimated Per Acre Costs of Growing Sweet Sorghum

for Syrup; Hand Strip; Cut w/Corn Binder

Cost Item Unit Price per Unit Total Cost
1. VARIABLE COSTS (excl. Labor)
Lime 1/3 Ton $22.00 $7.33
Seed 2 lbs. 7.50 15.00
Fertilizer (5-10-15) 4 cwt. 9.00 36.00
Herbicide (pre-emerge) 1 qt. 3.00 3.00
Herbicide (post-emerge) 1 pt. 2.00 2.00
Fuel 12.2 gal. .80 9.76
Machinery Maintenance 1 Acre 40.62 40.62
Interest on Variable Costs $113.71 .09 5.12
Sub - Total  $118.83
Pre Harvest 4.3 hrs. 6.50 $27.95
Harvest 45 hrs. 6.50 292.50
Total Labor $320.95
Excluding Labor $118.83
Including Labor $439.28
Land 1 Acre 35.00 $35.00
Machinery 1 Acre 47.95 47.95
General Overhead $118.83 .05 5.94
Management $118.83 .05 5.94
Total Fixed Costs $94.83
TABLE 3. Estimated Investment and Annual Fixed Costs

for Equipment to Process Sorghum Syrup 


Cost Item







Estimated Costs For:

Deprec. Repairs Interest


Annual Costs

30 x 30, Juice Extraction $2,250 20 $112 $56 $101 $269
20 x 20 for Cooking 1,800 20 90 45 81 216
8 x 20 for Storage 2,000 20 100 50 90 240
Total Buildings $6,050 $302 $151 $272 $725
Mill $1,750 20 $87 $87 $79 $253
Elec. Motor & Transmission 600 20 30 --- 27 57
Stalk Conveyer 600 15 40 15 27 82
Power Belt 350 10 35 --- 16 51
Pan Foundation 800 20 40 --- 36 76
Cooking Pan 3,000 10 300 --- 135 435
Fuel System 250 10 25 --- 11 36
Juice Box 125 10 12 --- 6 18
Syrup Tank 250 10 25 --- 11 36
Skimmings Tank 400 20 20 --- 18 38
Total Equipment $8125 $614 $102 $366 $1,082
Total Buildings & Equipment $14175 $916 $253 $638 $1,807

NOTE: Annual Interest Costs Estimated as: New Cost x 9%.
TABLE 4. Estimated Costs of Processing

One Acre of Sorghum Cane for Syrup (150 gallons) 

Cost Item
Units Price per Unit Total Cost

per Acre

Total Cost

per Gallon

1. Variable Costs, (excl.Labor):
Fuel 300 gal. $0.75 $225.00 $1.50
Containers 600 qt. .35 210.00 1.40
Electricity 60 kwh .10 6.00 .04
Machinery 1 acre 20.00 20.00 .13
Total Variable Costs $461.00 $3.07
2. Fixed Costs
Buildings 1 acre 48.00 $48.00 $0.32
Equipment 1 acre 72.00 72.00 .48
Total Fixed Costs $120.00 $0.80
3. Labor 70 hrs. $6.50 $455.00 $3.03
4. Total Processing Costs $1,036.00 $6.90

TABLE 5. Estimated Total Costs for the 

Production and Processing of Sorghum Syrup (150 gallons)

Cost Item Cost per Acre Cost per Gallon
1. Variable Costs, (excl. Labor):
Production $103.00 $0.69
Processing 461.00 3.07
Total Variable Costs $564.00 $3.76
2. Fixed Costs:
Production $90.00 $0.60
Processing 120.00 .80
Total Fixed Costs $210.00 $1.40
3. Labor:
Production $548.00 $3.65
Processing 455.00 3.03
Total Labor Costs $1,003 $6.68
4. Total All Costs $1,777 $11.84


Costs for Growing and Share Processing

Not all growers have processing facilities. Consequently, they haul the cane to a sorghum mill and pay a custom processor to cook off the syrup. A common agreement is to give the processor one-fourth of the syrup. The grower pays for three-fourths of the fuel, provides three-fourths of the containers, provides one worker during the cooking process and one worker for feeding the cane into the mill.

Using the cost figures in this analysis and a 150 gallon yield of syrup, the grower receives 112 gallons from an acre of sorghum with a total cost of $11.55 per gallon (table 6).

Plan With Care

The inputs and yields used in the analysis are intended as a guide for planning. Actual yields can be higher or lower - and costs can vary. Producers should estimate their own costs when planning for production. And any increase in acreage should be done only after the market potential is determined. Experiences with other specialty farm commodities have shown that the farm price can drop quickly when production increases faster than demand.


Appreciation is expressed to individual cane growers and processors who devoted time and assistance in collecting this cast data. This analysis would not have been possible without their cooperation.
TABLE 6. Estimated Costs for Growing Sorghum

and Custom Processing Syrup

Cost Item
Cost per Acre
Cost /Gallon Received
1. Growing Cane:
Variable Costs $103.00 $0.92
Fixed Costs 90.00 .80
Labor 548.00 4.89
Total Production Costs $741.00 $6.61
2. Processing Syrup:
Fuel $169.00 $1.51
Containers 157.00 1.40
Labor 227.00 2.03
Total Processing Costs $553.00 $4.94
3. Total Costs $1,294.00 $11.55
4. Net Sorghum to Grower;

Gallons per Acre

112 Gallons

Note: The growers provides 3/4 of the fuel and received 3/4 of the syrup, in this example is 112 gallons.

Further, the grower provides containers for his share and provides two workers during the cooking process.

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