Making the case for sorghum in 2023

For growers in the central and southern Great Plains, 2022 will go down as one of the toughest years in recent memory. Drought, high temperatures, supply issues and out of control input costs—especially fertilizer—made profits hard to come by regardless of the crop being grown.

As we move into 2023, a positive note is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s long-term forecast is currently predicting a shift back to more normal precipitation, although temperature remains above normal.

As growers plan their crop mix for 2023, grain sorghum should be considered for its resource conserving qualities, along with its ability to withstand short periods of drought and respond to timely rainfall or irrigation.

Seed costs are considerably less than most other crops. Depending on the seeding rate and desired seed treatments, cost of seed generally ranges from $5 to $18 an acre for most growers. For those who have not grown grain sorghum recently, the seed that is purchased will likely be a new variety because seed companies have done a great job developing new hybrids with increased yield potential and better standability within the last three to four years.

Most of these new hybrids will also have improved sugarcane aphid tolerance. From a visibility standpoint, seed companies have all but eliminated the tall off-types in many of their hybrids, producing uniformity in height resulting in an attractive table-top appearance that also aids in harvest.

Grass control has long been one of the reasons for growers electing to not plant sorghum. Today we have three, non-GMO technologies—Double Team from S&W Seeds, igrowth from Advanta Seeds and Inzen from Corteva that allow growers to use herbicides that will effectively control grass, including volunteer corn.

When sorghum is grown in rotation with cotton, it provides numerous benefits including increased soil moisture storage, protecting emerging cotton seedlings from wind damage and breaking disease cycles. In a 2017 trial conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University, cotton following sorghum produced a 26% higher yield than continuous cotton. In Nebraska, a multiyear trial showed an increase in soybean yield of 16.6% when following sorghum. Surprisingly, there also appears to be a benefit to corn yield when rotated with sorghum. A five-year trial from Kansas State University demonstrated an 8.4% increase in corn yield following sorghum compared to continuous corn.

Although most grain sorghum is planted as a dryland crop, it will respond well to timely limited irrigation. Splitting a circle of corn or cotton with sorghum allows growers to concentrate more of their water on these crops at critical times knowing that sorghum can wait a few days without a significant drop off in yield before getting its allocation of water.

Editor’s note: Brent Bean, Ph.D., is the Sorghum Checkoff Director of Agronomy, Lubbock, Texas. For more information visit