Written By: Scott Staggenborg Ph.D.
It seems like I’ve written or spoke about “Why you should grow sorghum next year” every year over the past two decades. There’s a handful of reasons for this I suspect, the first is that I’m simply a sorghum guy having grown up around it and spent most of my professional career around it. But perhaps the big reason is that sorghum is one of the most fitting crops to grow in the High Plains. I hesitate to talk much about the 2022 growing season because it was brutal for a lot of growers in the region, and as one grower said last week, “I’m not ready to talk about it or think about next year yet.” However, one thing about agriculture, we are eternal optimists and always looking for next year to be better. We are also very good at learning from our experiences.
Some of you might not believe me, but grain sorghum is making a comeback. I’m sure you’ve seen the “Sorghum is Back” videos that we’ve put out (if not, hurry over to YouTube and get caught up), we feel strongly that sorghum is back based on actual yield improvements. If you examine the USDA-NASS data for either the entire state of Kansas and the western Agricultural Reporting districts, you will see two things that will likely make you think I have been drinking too much Baiijiu. The first is that sorghum yields are increasing at an average of 0.6 bushels per year over the past 20 years across Kansas. Our other important feed grain is flat over this same period. Since I invoked the “best fit for the High Plains” earlier, if you focus on the Western Kansas ag reporting districts, sorghum yields have improved a whopping 1.9 bushels per acre per year over the past 20 years of reporting.
Another trend we are seeing in Western Kansas is limited irrigation sorghum being grown on the other half of pivots with corn and cotton. This is a great place for sorghum. We recommend following a 30-60-90 day irrigation pattern in these situations. The 30-day irrigation is to make sure your sorghum crop is as stress free as possible when the head is first developing. If you have good soil moisture, the plants are small at this stage and are not using very much water anyway, so this irrigation may not need to be the biggest event. Sixty days is really at flag leaf emergence or boot stage. The goal here is to get the head exerted out of the boot AND get as many seed set in the head as possible. In other words, reduce stress as much as possible during pollination. The last irrigation, the “90” will not improve yields, but will improve standability and harvest. Limited irrigation strategies, like the one described above, improved sorghum yields by 50 or 60 bushels compared to dryland alone. That is a pretty good economic return for a 5 to 6 inches of water which is considerably higher than other irrigated crops.
As you know, data is always in the eye of the beholder and each one of your operations is different. However, if you let the numbers above make you think about sorghum, and then layer on our new over-the-top grass weed control technology, Double Team™ Sorghum. Double Team should at least be considered if you farm west of Manhattan, KS, Lincoln, NE, Brookings, SD, Stillwater, OK or College Station, TX. Isn’t it interesting that these Ag schools are in the “east” and all kind of in a line?
In addition, Sorghum exports are tracking like last year, which should help hold prices up as in years past. Sorghum prices are about 92% of corn right now, which isn’t bad considering there’s less corn in the region right now.
If you have difficulty controlling grass weeds, you should be using Double Team Sorghum in these fields. When paired with FirstAct herbicide, they will help you obtain cleaner fields and bigger yields to become weed free in ’23.