There was plenty of chatter at winter meetings regarding the expected boom in Mid-South grain sorghum acreage. As planting draws closer, the chatter has only intensified.
“Right now, grain sorghum seed sales across the Delta are three times what they were at this time last year,” says William Johnson, DuPont/Pioneer technical product manager. “Most of the sales are in counties right along the Mississippi River. Sales are strongest in eastern Arkansas and northern Mississippi. In Arkansas, that includes the counties of Mississippi, Crittenden, St. Francis, Phillips, and Lee.”
Johnson, based in Arkansas, says there has been talk that grain sorghum could be the third or fourth largest crop, volume-wise, planted in the state. “That’s amazing to think about. Back in 1983, Arkansas had a million acres of grain sorghum. I’m told that was due to a farm bill program as well as the fact that we were coming off a major drought and sorghum is our most drought-tolerant crop. (See Grain sorghum in the Mid-South on the upswing?)
“Currently, some of the elevators along the river are offering 60 to 70 cents over corn priced for December delivery. But you can deliver grain sorghum in September or October. That means prices are approaching $4.60 to $4.70 for a bushel of sorghum.”
Pencil it out. “We’ve had a lot of 100- to 150-bushel per acre dryland. Irrigated, we’ve seen 150-plus bushels. Run that through the budgets and grain sorghum actually shows the highest returns at current prices.”
Any concerns about putting in so many grain sorghum acres at once? “I spoke with Gus Lorenz, (Arkansas Extension entomologist), a couple of days ago. There is a lot of concern and people talking about the sugarcane aphid and it costs more than $30 per acre to control. In a general sense, Gus said that just isn’t the case.”
In fact, in an Extension article (titled “Who’s afraid of the big bad sugarcane aphid?”), Lorenz writes: “There are evidently a lot of rumors and outright misconceptions out there about just how bad the pest can be. One grower called today and asked me if it really cost $30 an acre per application to control sugarcane aphid in milo — it doesn’t. Also, there have been a lot of questions about tolerant varieties; evidently a lot of seed companies are trying to sell varieties that they claim to be tolerant to sugarcane aphid.”
When growing grain sorghum with the threat of the sugarcane aphid there needs to be a strict scouting regimen and a willingness to spray only if necessary. “But we have products to deal with the sugarcane aphid, and it can be dealt with without spending a fortune,” says Johnson.
What advice is Johnson offering those considering grain sorghum? “Plant grain sorghum depending on your yield goals. If you’re on irrigated ground, you need to plant about 100,000 seed per acre. Dryland, you need to plant about 85,000 seed per acre.
“In the old days, we used to just throw out 7 pounds of seed. Well, the current varieties and hybrids differ in seed size. You can have some sorghum that is 15,000 seed per pound and another hybrid that is only 10,000 to 12,000 seed per pound.”
That’s why Johnson suggests producers use a metering system on a planter to ensure they can dial up exactly what is planted.
“Don’t overplant grain sorghum seed. That can lead to disease issues like charcoal rot where the grain falls on the ground due to stalk decay and isn’t going to be harvested. Make sure you have your seeding rate based on your production.”
There are great benefits from including grain sorghum in a crop rotation. Johnson says a good example is outside Proctor, Ark., near West Memphis. “Around there, some of the first herbicide-resistant Palmer pigweeds were found. Now, in that area, many producers have gone to grain sorghum as a way to combat resistant weeds.
“With grain sorghum, you can use different herbicides and modes of action. Atrazine and Dual really allows a clean start. When purchasing the sorghum seed, the seed must be concept treated so that it will tolerate the application of Dual herbicide. Coming back with a post-applied dose of atrazine when the grain sorghum is about three or four weeks old really does a great job on resistant pigweeds. More and more consultants are coming to that realization.” (See 'Cheap' weed control in grain sorghum - a warning)
At the recent barnyardgrass workshop in Stuttgart, Ark., the weed scientists seemed to be in agreement that crop rotation with corn and/or grain sorghum while utilizing Dual/atrazine can help control resistant barnyardgrass. “We’ve even heard from producers wanting to rotate grain sorghum with their rice.”
Producers must also make sure grain sorghum seed has an insecticide treatment such as Cruiser or Poncho. That will allow a good boost of early growth to get a stand well established and control early season pest such as green bugs and chinch bugs.