Millet seed--normally referred to simply as millet--is an ancient and modern crop used for a variety of purposes. The plant is a grain, just like wheat or rice, and the seed is used in the same way as many other grains. Millet is used to feed both cattle and humans.
According to the University of Wisconsin's Alternative Field Crops Manual, millet is one of the oldest cultivated crops. Millet was grown in Asia at least 4,000 years ago. Over time, the grain spread through the Middle East and eventually arrived in Europe. Millet did not reach the United States until the 18th century, and was initially grown only in the East. Eventually it was grown in large quantities in North and South Dakota. Agronomist R. D. Baker says that although millet is a minor crop in the United States, it is important in Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union.
There are eight important types of millet. Proso millet is grown in China, India, Europe, and Russia. It was introduced to the United States before any other variety, and is one type grown in the Dakotas. Foxtail millet grows in semi-arid areas and is found in East Asia and the United States. Japanese or barnyard millet is grown in Australia and East Asia, as well as the United States. Browntop millet, which originated in India, is grown in the American southwest. Cattail or pearl millet, which originated in Africa, is widely grown throughout most of the world including the United States. Finger millet grows in moist climates where rice also grows. Teff millet is an important crop in many countries because of its high content of iron and calcium. Koda or ditch millet is an important forage crop.
Millet for Animal Feed
According to Baker, the foxtail, koda, browntop and Japanese millets are used primarily for animal feed, forage or hay. Foxtail millet is used to make hay for cattle and sheep as well as birdseed. Japanese, browntop and koda millet are good forage grasses. Other types of millet are also sometimes used for animal feed.
Millet for Humans
Millet is an important food crop in some countries, particularly Asia. Teff millet is an important variety used for this purpose because of its high mineral content. Finger millet is important in areas with moist climates, and proso millet is often grown in warmer, dryer areas. Pearl millet is grown in sandy areas and is particularly disease-resistant.
Millet is a grain high in carbohydrates. It is a good source of manganese, copper, and magnesium, as well as the B vitamins. Half a cup of uncooked millet contains 8.5 grams of fiber. Depending on the variety, millet can also be high in calcium and iron. It contains some protein as well; half a cup uncooked contains 11 grams.