Don't Get Stuck This Season: Consider Sorghum When Facing Delayed or Prevented Planting


Wet Field

No matter how much analysis a grower does or knowledge of the farmer’s almanac he has, there is one factor he can’t always prepare for – rain. Whether lacking or over abundant, rain is a factor that can help a good year break records or make a bad year even more challenging. Across the country, conditions were unusually wet this season in many areas. With this in mind, growers may consider alternative crops such as grain sorghum or a hay grazer with more planting-time flexibility.

Timing

Mama always said patience is a virtue, and it may be just what growers need as they anxiously await planting in the midst of wet conditions. Fortunately, sorghum can be planted a little bit later than other crops. Consequently, the insurance deadlines are later as well. This buys some time in waiting for fields to dry and avoiding some of the issues that come with plowing through in the midst of non-ideal conditions. 

Practices

Avoid tilling wet soil whenever possible. Though you may buy some time in the beginning, you may make up for that in the time it takes breaking up the clods and battling the issue of compaction as a result of driving on wet soils. Additionally, growers should not skip controlling emerged weeds and applying a pre-emergence herbicide.

Equipment

Check it once, then check it again. Tire pressure should be checked daily on ground-driven planters with pneumatic tires, as pressure too high or too low can throw off metering. Make sure openers, press wheels and closing wheels are in good shape prior to planting, as good seed-to-soil contact is essential. Also, adjust down pressure as needed to conditions.

Nutrients

Overall, root growth slows and crops take up less nutrients in saturated soils, increasing the benefits of utilizing a starter fertilizer at planting. Flooding effects on soil nitrogen levels, especially in frozen soil, are hard to predict. In cases where time allows, collect soil samples to analyze the levels. However, when time is of the essence, it is safe to assume the soil contains little residual nitrogen. If wet conditions do not allow enough time to apply nitrogen prior to planting, apply the needed nitrogen as a starter fertilizer and as a sidedress application 3-4 weeks after emergence.

Sorghum, whether grain or forage, provides growers with an alternative cropping solution as they combat delayed and prevented planting this season.

For more information on managing sorghum after a wet winter and spring, read Brent Bean, Ph.D., Sorghum Checkoff director of agronomy’s recent article or visit sorghumcheckoff.com.