Grain sorghum in the Mid-South on the upswing?

Grain sorghum in the Mid-South on the upswing?

Rotation, weed control, improving soil health all reasons to consider grain sorghum. Report on 2014 milo in Arkansas.

While driving country roads it was obvious the Delta was home to much grain sorghum in 2014.

“Indeed, there was a lot of grain sorghum planted in 2014,” says William Johnson, Pioneer Technical Product Manager. “Seed sales were certainly up.

“We saw a lot of grain sorghum fields pop up in places like (east Arkansas’) Phillips County. But it was up and down the Mississippi River. Northern Mississippi has actually seen a rotation of cotton and grain sorghum become more common.

“Grain sorghum is going in on more drought-prone soils. It’s going in where the producers need a rotational crop to break up a lot of the pathogen diseases in soybeans.”

Some grain sorghum producers haven’t equipped their operations with a corn header. “Milo doesn’t require one of those to harvest.

“Others planting grain sorghum haven’t had good luck with LibertyLink soybeans -- they can’t get their yields up to Roundup Ready levels. So, they’re moving milo into the mix.”

The areas seeing the greatest increase in milo acres are those experiencing the most problems with herbicide-resistant Palmer pigweed.

“Resistant weeds have become so prevalent that producers are looking for anything that will help tamp them down,” says Johnson. “Milo is a nice fit for that purpose.

“I’ve heard from weed scientists that Palmer pigweeds need 65- to 75-degree soil temperatures for seed to germinate. The most rapid Palmer seed germination occurs once soil temperatures hit the mid-70s. That’s a huge advantage for corn and sorghum since they will come up at an earlier temperature and get a jump start.

“Once the soil is shaded, it is difficult for small weeds to survive without light. Once the plants get established and growing rapidly, you see very little weed emergence near the stalks.”

To combat resistant pigweeds, many farmers want to go back to some of the old chemistries, says Stewart Weaver, an Edmondson, Ark., producer who works a cotton/sorghum rotation. Farmers are looking to “old practices to break up the pigweed cycle -- atrazine and other things. Cotton/grain sorghum is just agronomically beneficial for us. We get in the field a little earlier and get out a bit faster, as well.

“We don’t have to worry about some of the lines at the elevators and the aflatoxin with corn,” Stewart told Delta Farm Press earlier this year. “Don’t get me wrong, corn is a good crop. We’ve grown it in the past and enjoyed success. But what we’re doing now just works better for us. We’re able to break the root knot nematode cycle and work on resistant weeds in our cotton.”

Weaver family farm's roots sunk deep in Arkansas

Weaver is also prone to plant grain sorghum behind soybeans that may have a root knot problem. “I believe that’s showing up in fields that are being planted in beans after beans after beans. You know, $13 soybeans will drive folks to plant them repeatedly.”

Sugarcane aphid

What about the influx of the white sugarcane aphid into Mid-South milo this year?

White sugarcane aphid continues to dog Mid-South milo

“The real concern came from reports out of south Texas where it doesn’t rain much,” says Johnson. “The honeydew that the aphid produces gets on the sorghum leaves and causes major issues in grain separation.”

Between treatments and the steady rains the Delta received this year, “we didn’t see nearly the problems they did in Texas. The rainfall seemed to wash the honeydew off the leaves here and there weren’t the same issues during harvest. There also seem to be several hybrids that are more tolerant than others -- that’s what they’ve found in Texas.”

Roger Gipson, Pioneer product agronomist, says milo in the area he works -- northeast Arkansas and the Missouri bootheel -- did experience the pest. However, “it was relatively minor. Along I-40, there were some fields treated but the farther north you traveled the populations dropped off. I actually found it all the way up to Caruthersville, Missouri. It came in late, though, and infestations didn’t warrant treatment.”

Gipson is careful to note that wasn’t the case elsewhere. “The farther south you traveled the more issues with the aphid there were. I went on a tour of south Texas earlier this year and saw firsthand the issues that aphid caused. It can be very bad. I spoke with one Texas grower who was just beginning harvest. He had to wash the combine every day because the honeydew was so thick.”

A veteran agronomist in Texas told Gipson that “the shocking thing about the aphid -- and they learned this the hard way -- is you’ll go out in a field and find a low infestation. It’s tempting to say, ‘Well, we’ll just watch this closely.’ Then, you go back in a week and find the population booming. They reproduce very fast and they’re hard to control.”

Gipson saw “some fantastic milo yields in the north Delta this year. We had one dryland location that cut over 170-plus bushel yields. An irrigated field cut 191 bushels. Lots of field averages -- particular around West Memphis and Marion -- hit 150-, 160-bushels. Everyone is happy with those yields.

“Of course, grain sorghum is great for a rotation crop and aids in controlling pigweed. But when you can get such phenomenal yields on top of that? Not many are going to argue with that kind of success.”

Second great year

This is actually the second great year in a row for milo. “No doubt, the cooler summers helped,” says Gipson. “But you have to credit the growers, as well. They’re just getting much better at managing their crops. They don’t treat any crop as an afterthought anymore -- very little is left to chance. They’re careful with fertility, they’re careful with scouting and treatments, with insect control.”

A lot more foliar fungicides in grain sorghum are also being used in the crop. “Research done a few years back showed that would be a benefit,” says Gipson. “Now, it’s proving out with some of the amazing responses we’re seeing when it’s applied anywhere from late boot to early flowering.

“I believe milo will continue to increase in importance for the Mid-South. It does such a good job with weed management.”

What are Johnson’s expectations for grain sorghum acreage in 2015?

“I’m guessing the acreage will drop. That’s just because the price of corn is going down and grain sorghum is priced off of corn.

“The common wisdom is that it will be wall-to-wall soybeans next year. But there are a lot of producers that say a main reason they’re making such huge soybean yields is due to crop rotation. So, they may not want to give up those rotations.

“It’s too bad the corn prices have dropped. The last couple of years have seen phenomenal yields in the Mid-South. Producers with irrigation have learned how to make 200-plus bushel corn. And I’m not talking about just in Arkansas. Those yields are being seen from Louisiana up to the bootheel.”

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