Grower Spotlight: Iowa Farmer Setting a Trend with Sorghum

By Kayla Wilkins, Sorghum Checkoff Communications Intern 

Sorghum is not a typical crop you will find in south-central Iowa fields. In fact, Joel Spring said his friends and neighbors thought he was crazy when he started growing this new crop on his farm in Centerville, Iowa. But after a couple years of successfully growing and marketing grain sorghum, Spring’s neighbors are now showing an interest what they originally thought to be an off-the-wall crop.

"They want to know the right management practices so when they raise sorghum the first year everything will be done right," Spring said.

In southern Iowa, sorghum is gaining ground because of its drought tolerance. Spring began growing sorghum two years ago and said it withstands harsh weather much better than other crops typically grown in the area.

"Sorghum can take the heat and drought stress, hang in there a while longer, and still maintain yield," he said.

In addition to withstanding drought conditions, the market for sorghum in the area has recently expanded. Spring said grain sorghum is gaining popularity in southern Iowa, especially with the help of major hog producer Murphy-Brown LLC, the Sorghum Checkoff and local educational field days.

"Murphy-Brown said they could take enough sorghum to cover 50,000 acres in southern Iowa and northern Missouri," Spring said. "I think it's a crop that will really take off here in the next five to 10 years"

Spring said he sees a promising future for sorghum in Iowa from an economic standpoint. He is making $80-$100 more per acre growing sorghum than other crops he has previously grown.

To accompany his sorghum, Spring raises 1,600 hogs annually. He is using a sorghum feed ration solely and finds it beneficial to his operation in many ways.

"We did nutritional samples and we weren't losing anything on feed value or feed efficiency by switching to sorghum. With the economics being behind it, it just makes sense on our farm to be feeding our hogs grain sorghum.”

Considering Spring is fairly new to the sorghum industry, he said his unique opportunity to be a member of the Sorghum Checkoff’s Leadership Sorghum Class II helped him learn new ways to improve his operation and learn best management practices. The variety of production regions represented by his fellow Leadership Sorghum classmates is also proving to be educational for the young farmer.

"We all use different production practices," he said, "What works in [my classmates' areas] may be things to try here, just because sorghum is such a new crop for us."

Spring said he is anxious to learn more about sorghum and what the crop has to offer in the upcoming Leadership Sorghum session in November.

"The biggest things I will try to bring back from my participation in the Leadership Sorghum program is the knowledge and expertise to expand this crop in our area and what it takes to make sorghum a popular and viable crop," Spring said. "You'll be very impressed with what sorghum will do on your farm if you'll treat it like you do any crop."