Sorghum is a Good Rescue Option in Cotton and Other Summer Crops

Brent Bean, Sorghum Checkoff Agronomist

There is still a grain crop choice for farmers who have seen drought and/or hail losses to this year’s cotton or other summer crops. Rather than letting ground go fallow and losing cropping benefits for next year, farmers should consider planting grain sorghum as a rescue crop. To do so, farmers must act soon.

Agronomically speaking, the last recommended sorghum planting dates vary, but generally are July 4 in Kansas, July 7 in the Texas Panhandle, July 10 in the Central South Plains of Texas and July 15 in the Lower South Plains.

There is low risk in planting drought-tolerant grain sorghum now. Sorghum requires less water than most crops, provides benefits like moisture retention and erosion control and there is usually a yield benefit to the cotton crop the next year.

Key selections farmers must make are the right hybrid and the inputs needed. Research has shown sorghum can still yield a crop with good test weight even when planted at this point in the season.

Farmers should work with an agronomist at either their regional extension office or their seed company to select a hybrid best suited to their soils, growing conditions and end goal for the crop. When planted now, the number of days for any given hybrid to reach maturity is generally less as a result of warmer temperatures and days beginning to grow shorter.  Also, it’s highly recommended to use a seed treatment insecticide for sugarcane aphids to protect against early infestation, in addition to a hybrid with sugarcane aphid tolerance.

If an early maturing hybrid is selected for planting, consider increasing seeding rate by 25 percent to compensate for reduced tillering by the crop due to the warmer temperatures, especially if planting is delayed into July. Also consider what remaining nitrogen may still be available in the field that wasn’t used by the failed crop. A starter fertilizer may be a good investment to compensate for a lack of N that may be in top few inches of soil due to leaching.

As is always the case with sorghum, a good preemergent herbicide application is a must. Also, growers should consider any long-lasting residual herbicides remaining from the failed crop that may affect sorghum establishment.


See to see cost comparisons between sorghum and other crops.

See for a list of SCA tolerant hybrids.

See for more information on cotton herbicide rotation restrictions.