Farmers stunned by sudden loss of milo crop to sprouting

Almost half of Mississippi's grain sorghum crop was lost to pre-harvest sprouting in September, according to the state's grain specialist. The damage could top $8 million.

“Growers are stunned,” said Extension corn specialist Erick Larson. “Some of these growers are well-seasoned. They've grown crops for 20-30 years and have never seen anything like this.”

Grain sorghum acreage had been trending upward over the last few years and a record yield of over 90 bushels was expected this year. Larson said that a little over half of the state's crop had been harvested by Sept. 1 and yields were excellent, many in the 120-140 bushel range.

During a five-day period that included the Labor Day weekend, extraordinary rainy, humid weather sent the unharvested milo crop tumbling. “Over 50 percent of the kernels in the heads sprouted. The crop was pretty much destroyed,” Larson said.

The sprouting damaged the crop so completely that the quality of any harvested grain will surely fall below what USDA defines as minimum commercial standards, according to Larson. “Growers who did take the affected grain to elevators are getting docked well over 50 percent. Test weights of the affected grain are in the mid-40 pound range. Normally, the standard is 56 pounds. There are not a lot of marketing opportunities.”

Many growers are abandoning their grain sorghum crops and tending to soybean and rice crops. There are reports of pre-harvest rice and corn seed germination, too, according to Larson.

There were a total of 95,000 acres of grain sorghum in the state this season, of which about 45,000 acres are damaged. Larson estimated that growers were getting value from only about 25 percent of the 45,000 acres. “At $2 a bushel, I estimate the damage at about $8 million.”

In many cases, the grain was mature and growers were waiting for lower moisture levels to begin harvest. Damage was more severe in the south Delta.

Larson said the state's corn crop survived any widespread pre-harvest sprouting. “After corn reaches physiological maturity, the ear shank on a lot of hybrids will tip over. Instead of the ears pointing up to the sky, they'll point down. That will help the husk shed water. Where we did see some sprouting was where hybrids were still holding their ears upright and water came down in the husk and collected down at the bottom.”

At the time of this writing, the corn crop was still not completely out of danger, according to Larson. “We're about 3-4 weeks behind on corn harvest and if we do get back into some stormy weather, corn would be extremely susceptible to stalk lodging.”

Arkansas wheat and feed grains specialist William Johnson said most of the Arkansas grain sorghum crop had been harvested by Labor Day and had no problems with pre-harvest sprouting.

In fact, USDA is projecting a record yield for the Arkansas grain sorghum and corn crops, at 87 bushels and 145 bushels, respectively.

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