Recommending growing sorghum makes sense

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For various areas of the country, crop consultants and agronomists might want to point out the value of growing sorghum compared to corn, especially after the 2012 drought showed the heat and drought hardiness of sorghum compared to corn in general.

Dairy and cattle farmers who have suffered through feed shortages and skyrocketing forage prices due to abandoned fields, reduced acreages and lower yields of corn and alfalfa can probably see a fit for sorghum if more was available.

“The drought is underscoring the need for productive forage crops with lower water requirements and production costs,” noted Alta Seeds in a news release. “Independent studies have shown forage sorghum saves farmers an average of $200 per acre in total production costs compared to corn silage.”

Just as with corn, new sorghum hybrids are being developed and introduced yearly that have advantages over previous hybrids. 

“Forage sorghum with the Brachytic Dwarf and BMR-6 combination can produce high yield and feed value equal to corn with a variety of uses including hay, silage and grazing,” said Barry Lubbers, U.S. sales manager for Alta Seeds. “Sorghum’s water use efficiency is one of its greatest strengths. Sorghum is a hardy, drought tolerant plant that can perform with up to 40 percent less water than corn.

“According to research published by Texas AgriLife Extension in 2001, BMR-6 forage sorghums will yield 1.75 tons of biomass per one inch of water applied, while corn will produce less than one ton per inch of water applied. For irrigated producers, greater water-use efficiency means pumping less water, reducing the cost per acre of the forage produced.”

Mark Marsalis, an extension agronomy specialist at New Mexico State University, is also noted by Alta Seeds as saying forage sorghum is often a viable alternative to corn silage, especially in areas where rainfall or irrigation is limited. Marsalis released a recent paper stating the case for more growers to consider planting forage sorghum.

“Input costs can be considerably less with forage sorghum than corn,” Marsalis is quoted as having said. “Silage growers can potentially save on fertilizer expenses when growing forage sorghum. Excellent yields (up to 30 tons/acre with conventional types) have been obtained with 200 pounds per acre or less of nitrogen, which is less than what is commonly put on corn for the same yield goal.”

The seed company also contends sorghum seed costs approximately $15 per acre compared to corn in the $100 per acre range, including traits.

“Silage producers must face the challenge of growing adequate feed supplies with considerably less inputs than in the past,” Marsalis continued. “The drought and heat tolerance of forage sorghum combined with the ability to resume growth after drought makes it an ideal candidate for silage systems in dry climates facing water supply concerns.”

His research has shown that forage sorghum can produce comparable or better yields than corn when irrigation water becomes limiting or when growing conditions are less than ideal.

“Whether it’s an irrigated or dryland farming operation, sorghum’s adaptive nature, high production efficiency and versatility make it a valuable tool and the best choice for forage producers demanding a reliable crop that produces high quality feed,” said Lubbers.

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