Mid-South's interest in grain sorghum grows

Facing trailer-riding farmers with a field of bumper grain sorghum behind him, Terral's Gregg Matheny said that for the first time in years “there's a lot of optimism. There's optimism about how the crop is looking this season, optimism that most of us got to cut a fat hog as far as prices, and optimism with the opportunities next year's grain markets are presenting.”

At Terral's recent field day outside Greenville, Miss., Matheny said this year is different. Previously, when he spoke about the crop, the field sales manager for southeast Arkansas and north central Mississippi would see people shifting in seats and staring into space. Now, with favorable prices, ears perk up at the mention of milo.

“I'm going to give you four good reasons why grain sorghum needs to be talked about.”

  • Milo is connected to corn. “The way markets are going, the way milo follows corn on the trend in the pricing of everything, milo will be dragged along for the ride. As corn peaks in the market, milo will do the same and not be very far behind.”

  • For many, milo is less capital-intensive to get started. “You can throw a milo crop into the field for half to three-quarters required for a corn crop. You won't have to upgrade equipment or do a lot different than what you've done in the past.”

  • Milo presents a rotational opportunity. “Many have been in a soybean, or cotton, monoculture on much farmland. And the market hasn't justified planting grain sorghum. But does now and we need to take advantage.”

  • Agronomics. “From an agronomic standpoint, milo has a dense, fibrous root system. It's drought-tolerant and can break the nematode cycles that other crops we're working with won't.”

Among Terral grain sorghum hybrids warranting attention:

  • 93S72 — “The S stands for stability. If you've got a field that runs from sugar sand on one end to the stickiest buckshot at the bottom, 93S72 is the hybrid to look at. It will be consistent across soil types, especially when changing soils within a field.”

    Agronomically, 93S72 rates a 9 on drought stress tolerance, an 8 on standability and a 9 on charcoal rot (which lends itself to lighter soil types where, generally, dryland acres are).

    “The heads are good, above the leaves. It has a nice, open head and has good grain with heavy test weights.

    “I've been working with this one for about five years. It's amazed me when we put it (in tough conditions). Generally, even in situations where other varieties have trouble, this one comes through with a good yield.”

  • 96H81 — “The H stands for high input or high management. If you take sorghum and put it on cotton-type, or irrigated soils — even in heavier, internally-drained clay — or beds, this is an excellent choice.”

    Matheny has also been working with 96H81 for five years.

    “It continues to be phenomenal and has a very strong agronomic package. It rates a 9 on charcoal rot, an 8 on standability and a 7 on drought stress. This one needs to go in irrigated environments where it'll be pushed.”

    Compared to 93S72, the heads from 96H81 are tighter. It has a bronze/reddish colored grains with “excellent” test weights.

  • 96H91 — This is the newest hybrid Terral is offering and next year “we'll have good bit out. Again, the H indicates it's a high management sorghum. For this one, you want to target lighter silt loam acreage all the way to clay acreage with good, internal drainage.”

96H91 has many of the same agronomic benefits of 96H81.

“Looking at it, you'll notice two things. First, it has a more open head type. Second, the grain is more cream-colored.

“This hybrid has excellent standability and the headed version is above the leaves.”

With grain sorghum planted across the Delta and in all stages of growth, Matheny's phone has been ringing with many agronomic questions.

“First, you need to be looking at populations. For dryland, you need to put out 70,000 to 90,000 plants. In irrigated fields, you need 100,000 plants to, high side, 120,000 plants.”

Many farmers like to drill milo. “I won't discourage that, but the populations are more constant and seed spacing truer if put in every 15 inches to 40 inches. Populations work a bit better like that.”

Liquid nitrogen is always better than dry nitrogen on milo. The liquid allows quicker uptake and utilization by the plants.

“A good rule of thumb is about 0.75 nitrogen unit equals about 1 bushel of grain. According to soil tests and your yield expectations, you need to figure about 0.75 unit of nitrogen for every bushel you want off an acre.”

Lately, Matheny has also fielded queries on insect management. “When you see about 50 percent of the heads poking out, put out a pyrethroid as a prophylactic treatment. In a week, do it again. That's good, cheap insurance and will lead to pretty milo.”

Most early-planted milo is past that window. Milo that's behind wheat “is probably two or three weeks from that spraying.”

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