Red Sorghum taking center field as major crop in Kentucky
Red Leaf Biologics, scientists make unique discovery
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Sorghum is a species of plant native to Kentucky but scientists here have discovered a unique way to grow what they call a new and more beneficial variety of red sorghum.
It’s a story that starts here in the bluegrass state but economically speaking could take root across the world.
“We ultimately see this as the next crop here in Kentucky,” said Sean Voigt, President of Red Leaf Biologics.
Red Leaf Biologics was founded in 2015.
CEO Jordan Wood, said previously, the red coloring in the sorghum plant was only found in the leaf sheath, where the leaf connects to the plant, or in the tiny grain at the top.
“What our Chief Science Officer Seth DeBolt discovered at the University of Kentucky was a variety of sorghum that basically turned these compounds on throughout the whole plant and gave us fields of red instead of just minute quantities of the valuable polyphenols compounds,” explained Wood.
But it hasn’t been an easy or quick process getting here.
“Our crop is very different from any other sorghum that’s ever existed,” said Life Scientist Parker Camp. “So we don’t have books, hundreds of years or even decades worth of information to be able to teach us how to grow this crop.”
According to Camp, it’s in the greenhouse where they continue to learn and improve the crop. But, even scientists need a helping hand.
“Paired with local growers, we’re able to use their current infrastructure and their current knowledge of the crops that they grow and be able to implement some of our knowledge of our specific crop and be able to build systems to be able to scale this into a row crop,” explained Camp.
Working with a handful of local farmers the past few years, they’ve taken the knowledge to the field. According to Wood, “We have four or five fields, a total of about 125 acres.”
The goal is to have thousands of acres with as many as 40 to 50 growers, making it as farmer-friendly as possible.
“This is planted just like any other row crop like corn or soybean. We provide the farmers with the seed, there’s no equipment needed on the front end, they can dump it into the back of their corn combines and plant it very similar to how they would corn,” explained Wood.
After harvesting, drying and extraction, Voigt says, “We’re able to produce this super concentrated mix of polythenols compounds. Some of the actual compounds that create that color are some of the most potent and valuable found in nature.”
Voigt says applications could include cosmetics with anti-aging skin care, as well as nutraceuticals, with health and wellness benefits.
“We’ve shown that they have spectacular bioavailability in terms of reducing inflamation, in activating the immune system in cellular models and with antioxidant potential that is basically unmatched in the natural world,” explained Voigt. “And we really see this of the earliest stages of a major market and a major product that not only will have amazing benefits to consumers from their cosmetic and their health perspective but a huge economic driver and impact on the state as well.”
Voigt says they’re already in talks with several companies.
“The markets that we’re ultimately going for are the natural ingredient but bioactive markets. These are worth about $15 billion,” said Voigt.
According to Voigt, consumers will be able to buy this product on the shelves by this time next year. Those with Red Leaf Biologics say it’s a big thanks to the University of Kentucky.
“The University of Kentucky and the ag ecosystem here has been a huge part in allowing Red Leaf to reach its full potential,” said Voigt.
Voigt said they’re buildling their first production facility now and will only continue to expand.
“Long term, is to have a stable crop that is going to be in the portfolio of most growers in the state,” said Wood. “Something that is going to be up there with corn, soybean, tobacco as kind of one of the primary crops for Kentucky.”
“And more sustainable than even corn or soy. We want to be the face of ag tech in Kentucky,” added Voigt.
Wood said they currently have 125 acres but hope to expand that to 250 acres next year and eventually into the thousands with multiple extraction sites.
You can learn more about Red Leaf Biologics HERE.