Tim Fisher with the Arkansas Sorghum Shootout field before the rains came

Tim Fisher with the Arkansas Sorghum Shootout field before the rains came.

Fishers growing milo ‘higher than an elephant’s eye’ until weather hit

The Fishers were part of an effort to promote the National Sorghum Producers’ “Sorghum Shootout,” a program, sponsored by Stoller USA, that is designed to help growers improve their yields and their bottom lines with the crop.  

Editor’s note: When Tim Fisher was interviewed for the following article on Aug. 12 he expected to be harvesting the field he entered in the 2016 Sorghum Shootout 12 to 14 days later. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas, and Fisher will be unable to submit a yield for the grain sorghum contest.

Over the last two weeks, he and hundreds of other growers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and the Texas Gulf Coast have been hit with extended periods of heavy rains and warm temperatures that caused their milo to sprout in the field. Farmers have had truckloads of grain rejected at local elevators due to the sprouting and other quality problems in their milo, rice, soybean and cotton crops.

Crop losses in Louisiana alone are estimated at $110 million and could go much higher. No monetary figures are available in the other states where harvest of their crops is just getting underway. Visit http://deltafarmpress.com for the latest reports on the damage from the great storm that had no name in August of 2016.

Mid-South farmers are accustomed to seeing corn grow taller than their heads as it reaches maturity in mid-July. Grain sorghum is usually a different story.

That’s why a photo of Colt, Ark., producer Tim Fisher standing in a field of grain sorghum taller than he was attracted a lot of attention when it was distributed by the National Sorghum Checkoff in July.

The photo was part of an effort to promote the National Sorghum Producers’ “Sorghum Shootout,” a program, sponsored by Stoller USA, that is designed to help growers improve their yields and their bottom lines with the crop.

Becky Fisher, Tim Fisher and Adam Fisher pose in their Sorghum Shootout Field along with Rick Walker, their Stoller USA representative.Fisher is one of three growers who are sharing their grain sorghum production practices to provide a forum for sorghum growers across the country to be exposed to best management practices needed to reach higher yields. The other producers are Steven Albracht of Hart, Texas, and Earl Wetta of Garden Plain, Kans.

You don’t have to talk to Fisher long to realize why he was selected for the program. Grain sorghum is not just another crop to Fisher, who farms with his wife, Becky, and son, Adam, on more than 3,000 acres near the St. Francis-Cross County line in northeast Arkansas.

“We have an intense fertilizer program,” says Fisher. “We start with dry — we actually run an in-furrow and a 2X2 on our planter in milo, something a lot of people don’t do. We come back with a side-dressing, and then we’ll foliar feed.

Spoon-feed the crop

“We actually spoon-feed our milo all year,” says Fisher. “It’s kind of like me and you — we don’t eat everything for the year at one time. So we just kind of spoon it out.”

Fisher says he became involved in the project because of his son Adam’s experience with grain sorghum. Adam Fisher holds the record for high-yield grain sorghum production in Arkansas, having won the convention-till, irrigated category of the yield contest three years in a row.

In 2012, the younger Fisher harvested 164 bushels of grain sorghum per acre; in 2013, 168 bushels per acre; and, in 2014, 188 bushels per acre — all in a conventional-till, irrigated production system. Last year, he averaged 142.43 bushels per acre in the reduced-till irrigated category of the National Sorghum Producers contest.

“Last year was not a good sorghum year,” says Tim Fisher. “We had a tremendous increase in acreage statewide, but conditions just weren’t that favorable for growing good sorghum.”

This year, they’re using a conventional program, “100 percent conventional till,” Tim Fisher says. “We worked the ground early and put our fertilizer out,” says Tim Fisher. “We planted Pioneer 84P80 grain sorghum on 30-inch beds with somewhere between 125,000 and 128,000 seed per acre. We ended up with a final stand of 115,000 to 120,000 plants per acre, which is a little on the high side.

“We decided to do that to try to stop the old sucker heads. If you remember how the old milo used to put out suckers, we’re trying to stop that.”

‘Think it will be a crop’

The father-son team used Stoller’s Stimulate and Bio-Forge on the seed and applied Stoller’s Harvest More Urea Mate, Bio-Forge, Sugar Mover, X-Cyte and N-Large Premier at V-5 or V-6 and later at heavy boot.

Tim Fisher is impressed with what he’s seeing so far. “If nothing happens to it in the next 14 days, I believe we will have done what we were supposed to — I think it’s going to be a crop,” he said. (He was interviewed on Aug. 12.)

A pick-up truck bed view of the Sorghum Shootout Field near Colt, Ark.“We’ve had a lot of exertion,” he noted. “We had a lot of good stalk exertion. The head exertion is phenomenal on it. It grew very tall.”

Acknowledging that farmers have moved away from in-furrow applications, Fisher said it’s part of his and Adam’s production philosophy.

“The in-furrow will really show out on cold, wet ground,” says Tim Fisher. “A lot of people say it’s not worth the money, but, instead of saying that’s extra, we start there and figure our fertilizer to the end. We space it out instead of putting a whole bunch out at one time.”

The Fishers planted the first May 1. Then the temperatures dipped.

“Milo will tell on you,” he said. “You can look at the stalk and see when you had damage. We were able to calculate and determine when we received a 6.5-inch rain. You could see it in the damage on the stalk — the nodes were shorter. That’s the only damage we can find in the stalk so far.”

Avoiding fertilizer burn

They put nitrogen out in a 2-inch X 2-inch spacing at planting to keep the nitrogen away from the seed. “That keeps it from having a burning effect,” says Fisher. “But it also keeps it close enough that when it sprouts and comes out it will grow through the nitrogen zone. We’re big on placement of fertilizer.”

In 2012, the Fishers broke the Arkansas record on corn with a 301-bushel-per-acre yield. “That’s when we found out the Stoller Bio-Forge actually is a safener that helps prevent burning the seed,” he said. “We had a lot of trouble that year with fertilizer burning the seed.

“I told Adam he could plow the NCGA (National Corn Growers Association Yield Contest) field up,” says Tim. “He asked ‘why?’ and I told him where I was applying 5 gallons I had put 15 gallons of N on the seed, and it would never come up. Adam told me to just leave it alone.”

Tim Fisher explains head exertion to a visitor to his Sorghum Shootout field near Colt, Ark.It turned out someone had given the Fishers Bio-Forge to try, and they put it on the seed for that field. “We had a 100 percent success rate that year — no burn, no hooking of the roots or anything,” he said. “That’s how we got started with Stoller.”

They apply 28-0-07 at side-dress. Adam Fisher blends 32 percent liquid nitrogen with ammonium thiosulfate as a sulfur source to compensate for the reduced levels of sulfur that are being deposited from the atmosphere.

“The Harvest More Urea Mate they apply has a pH of 1,” says Rick Walker, the Stoller USA representative who works with the Fishers. “Most of the insecticides you mix have a high pH, so we use an acid material with them.”

Single herbicide application

The Fishers applied a pre-emergence herbicide — Verdict — at planting. “We were fortunate in that that’s all we had to put out this year,” says Fisher.

They typically spray a pyrethroid for midge. “There are two products we can spray for sugarcane aphids when it gets to be that time of year,” says Tim. “We’ll check the field twice a week. People say you don’t have time to walk a field twice a week, but it’s not hard with milo.

“If you check the Johnsongrass around the edge of your grain sorghum fields, that’s the first place sugarcane aphids will show up,” he notes. “We rotate a couple of products, depending on the year and the availability. They tried to pull Transform off the market, so we used Sivanto this year. So far — knock on wood — we’ve kept them under control.”

They sprayed a pyrethroid for headworms this year, and they applied a fungicide. “All the companies make a good fungicide now,” he said.

They furrow irrigate their grain sorghum, watering every middle.

Adam Fisher holds the Arkansas record with 188 bushels of grain sorghum per acre, but the family actually harvested 195 bushels per acre in another field when that occurred in 2014. They would like to grow more, but they’re realists.

“A total of 250 bushels is what the National Sorghum Producers would like to see, but that’s hard to do in Arkansas,” says Tim. “Sorghum does better with cooler nights, the 60-degree temperatures that we don’t often have here in the summer.”

For more on the Sorghum Shootout, visit http://sorghumgrowers.com/.

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