Why Sorghum in the South?

By Brent Bean, Sorghum Checkoff Agronomist
Lubbock, Texas

One of the many benefits of farming in the South is the ability to grow just about any crop. This ability puts the southern farmer in a rather unique position to annually choose the mix of crops that will be most profitable in both the short and long term.

Historically, grain sorghum was a popular crop to grow in rotation with cotton, soybeans or peanuts. However, for various reasons in recent years, more growers have opted to plant corn as a rotational crop. The exception was in 2015,whenclose to 500,000 acres of grain sorghum were grown in the state of Arkansas alone. The average yield in 2015 was a respectable 98 bushels per acre despite heavy sugarcane aphid infestations in fields throughout the state. Since that time, seed companies have promoted sorghum hybrids with tolerance to the aphid. Aphid-tolerant hybrids, coupled with improved knowledge about how to the control the aphid, have resulted in reduced aphid damage in 2017. We expect hybridtolerance to the sugarcane aphid to continue to improve in the coming years. 

Kansas State University reports that corn typically has a higher yield potential under environments where water is not limited, thoughdryland grain sorghum yields tend to be more consistent and better than corn under dry conditions. Grain sorghum is well-known for its ability to withstand short periods of drought.

Cost of production tends to be somewhat lower for grain sorghum compared to corn. Much of the difference involves seed cost. The 2018 Field Crop Enterprise Budgets for Arkansas lists seed cost for trait stacked dryland corn at $105 per acre compared to dryland grain sorghum at less than $13 per acre.

Both corn and sorghum tend to benefit broadleaf crops in rotation by breaking up herbicide use patterns and interrupting disease and insect cycles. In university trials where soybeans followed grain sorghum in 2016, soybean yields were increased by 5 bushels per acre compared to continuous soybeans, when averaged across five locations in the South. Others have shown similar benefits to cotton yield rotated with sorghum.. Sorghum may be particularly beneficial in soils where soybean cyst, root-knot nematodes or reniform nematodes are present.

Demand for grain sorghum continues to be strong both internationally and domestically. The United Sorghum Checkoff Program regional director for the delta and Midsouth is constantlyin contact with grain buyers who are finding it difficult to locate sorghum grain. The pet food and bird seed markets are particularly lucrative, and demand from the poultry industry is growing. Growers are encouraged to contact the United Sorghum Checkoff Program for marketing opportunities in their regions.