Sweet spot for sorghum

Dave Bergmeier

All maps show the drought’s grip on the western and southern Plains and as May nears growers are figuring what their options might be and one hope for farmers in future years is also a familiar one—sorghum.

The crop has been a staple in dryland conditions and there has been a growth in export opportunities—particularly to China.

Field Editor Lacey Vilhauer in her cover story wrote about Texas A&M researchers who have conducted two years of studies on sorghum silage for dairy cattle diets. They have found promising results using certain varieties to produce silage that are the closest nutritional comparison to corn while requiring less water to grow.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service dairy specialist Juan Pineiro said prices for corn silage have reached $120 a ton and some dairy farmers are buying and transporting corn silage from 200 to 300 miles away, which adds to their input costs.

The promising research will not impact growers’ decision this year but a drought tolerant sorghum silage could open new doors for farmers in future years and that’s good news because they need options. Growers who have concerns about bottom line production costs and water availability will want to read the article as it does lend itself to optimism.

In this week’s edition, Field Editor Kylene Scott also has an article on sorghum’s impact on stomach health and humans what additional research says about the crop.

All of this comes on the heels of recent developments that provide sorghum growers with more protection against weeds.

Sorghum Checkoff Director of Agronomy Brent Bean noted in a recent column that the best way to control weeds in a sorghum field is to apply pre-emergence herbicides. If a post emergency weed control is needed there are several active ingredients to choose from for broadleaf weed control. He also noted with grass control, there are three active ingredients that can be used with herbicide tolerant hybrids that contain the Double Team, iGrowth or Inzen traits.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2022-23 sorghum planted acres in the U.S. totaled about 6.3 million acres. Sorghum in 2015 reached nearly 8.5 million acres. The crop is primarily grown in Kansas, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska and South Dakota.

There continues to be hope that sorghum acres will expand particularly as noted in recent editions that long-term drought conditions can also mean lowering the water table of the massive Ogallala Aquifer. Growers who depend on irrigation are also looking at crops that can use less water. Corn seed companies have invested substantially in drought-tolerance and that has helped growers who have destination markets in feedlots and dairies.

The High Plains economy is driven by livestock and grain production and that necessitates continued research into commodities that can be sustainable for many years because a hungry world depends on it.

We’re hopeful that moisture will break this dreaded drought so farmers and livestock producers can continue to have options to keep them profitable. It is a good reason to be sweet on sorghum.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].