SIRUP Buying from Farms By Relief Agency Shows Need for Better Quality

The farm-made sirup industry involves a processing of raw material on the farm. Instead of selling sugarcane and sorgo as such, these crops are made into sirup either on the farms of the growers or at farm custom mills on a share basis. At least 60 percent of the production is marketed as an important source of cash for thousands of small farms, located principally in the South. By processing sugarcane and sorgo and marketing them in the form of sirup, the farmer has an opportunity for obtaining a considerable “step-up" in value.

Recent purchases of sorgo and sugarcane sirups by the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation direct from farmers through State extension marketing services in several producing States have resulted not only in making the relief dollar do double duty, but have also thrown an economic searchlight upon the problems of sirup producers in handling this subsistence and cash crop which is of importance on many small farms. The purchase on behalf of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration of sirup direct from farmers on a scale of hundreds of thousands of gallons has emphasized the variation in quality which is a serious obstacle to the more profitable marketing of this crop.

On first thought this difficulty confronting the farm-scale sirup producer may appear to be a simple marketing problem, but further consideration shows that the problem is more complex than one of simply establishing the usual marketing program as applied to fruits and vegetables. The establishment of a grading system and marketing program alone will not solve the problem, since too large a percentage of farm-made sirup is not merchantable because of various defects such as sugaring, sediment, turbidity, dark color, and strong flavor. It is necessary to improve production at the source in order that the percentage of off-grade sirup may be reduced to a point at which a grading and marketing program will be effective.

Chemical and Technological Research

Basic chemical and technological research by the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils is resulting in the solution of various difficulties which have been the cause of defects in quality and which heretofore have stood in the way of a sufficient degree of uniformity in quality.  Effective methods have been developed for preventing sugaring (crystallization of sucrose) in both sugarcane and sorgo sirups and for obtaining better control of color and flavor. Crystallization of sucrose (cane sugar) can be prevented by transforming a portion of the sucrose into invert sugar. This is accomplished by adding to the sugarcane juice or semisirup a very small proportion of invertase, which is an enzyme that has the specific property of inverting sucrose. In sugarcane sirup of strong flavor and dark color the flavor and color can be reduced by the use of decolorizing carbon. A method for using decolorizing carbon on a farm scale has been devised.

A practical farm-scale method of using the malt-extract method for preventing gelatinization of starch in sorgo sirup has been devised.  The malt extract, which is added to either the sorgo juice or to the semisirup, transforms the starch into sugar and dextrin. This treatment not only prevents slow boiling and subsequent jellying of the sirup, but also yields a sirup which is much clearer in appearance than that ordinarily obtained.  The method is simple and the cost is small.  More basic research along this line is needed in order to provide a sufficient solution of the problem at the source as a prerequisite to grading and marketing.

Coordinated Program Desirable

For the purpose of bringing about more profitable marketing of farm-made sirups in a manner comparable with the marketing of fruits and vegetables, it is necessary to have (1) correlated agronomic and basic chemical technological research for the development of improved production methods which will result in sirup of better and more uniform quality, (2) timely and rapid dissemination of research information through the extension services of the various sirup-producing States so that research results can be applied without delay, and (3) cooperation of farm marketing agencies for operation of grading and packing plants so as to effect an orderly marketing of farm-made sirups.

One State marketing agency, which purchased over 300,000 gallons of sugarcane and sorgo sirups during the past year for the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, is now taking steps toward the installation of grading and packing plants for the purpose of placing farm-made sirup on an equal marketing basis with vegetables and other farm crops. An important influence for extension of the commercial market for farm-made sirups is the wide distribution of sirups purchased by the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation for relief purposes.  These sirups have been distributed in some areas in which heretofore very little farm-made sirup has been consumed. Favorable reports regarding the reception accorded these sirups have been received and this distribution may have an important influence in widening the commercial market in later years. Sorgo and sugarcane sirups have important nutritional and dietetic properties which are valuable for supplementing other foods in the diet.

E. K. Ventré, Bureau of Chemistry and Soils.