Sorghum Harvest

By Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

As the engine of the John Deere tractor sputtered, the wheels and belts began churning on the old press.

It was that time of year again for the Schnell brothers. After harvesting several acres of sorghum, the cane is ready to be pressed. The family tradition of making sweet sorghum syrup to be used in recipes, on pancakes and cereal had begun.

Every year Rolland Schnell, his brother Dale, cousin Dick Schnell and other family and friends convene on a 40-acre section of timber near Sully for canning. The center of the operation is an old press dating back to the 1880s.

The passage of time is unmistakable to see. The iron is rusted. Numerous teeth on the gears have been replaced or repaired. But, the old press still churns with a steady purpose.

The following photos offer a glimpse at the age-old process of canning sorghum.


Dale Schnell - "The old press sat in a junk pile and my brother and I put it back together."

The sorghum is harvested, leaves are stripped and heads cut off in preparation for crushing.

An old John Deere churns the gears of the press.

Rolland Schnell back his GMC truck into position to unload sorghum stalks for pressing.

Rolland Schnell - "We're continuing the tradition that started in our family at the turn of the 19th century. For us it is a fun hobby."

The juices are heated slowly until all that remains is a sweet syrup. They pressed about 40 gallons of juices from the stalks.

Out of the 40 gallons of juices about six gallons were left after the evaporation process. The finished product will be enjoyed by the men and given as gifts for family and friends.