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When I started writing this blog (3.13.2105) Ok grain elevator cash bids for grain sorghum aka milo was 6.61-7.70 cwt (3.7-4.31 per bushel) and corn was at 3.64-4.06 per bushel. Meaning there is currently a premium on sorghum grain. This difference among other things has increased the interest in planting sorghum. Of late I have been quite successful, at least on a small-scale, at producing sorghum yield in the 120-150 bpa range, thanks to the advice of Rick Kochenower former OSU sorghum specialist. Both of us believe that every year many producers are leaving significant bushels on the table due to one or two miss steps. I wanted to take this opportunity to share what is in my opinion the keys in producing a bumper sorghum crop. I should note that the primary key is out of our control, rain.
Key 1. Planting date, the optimum planting date for grain sorghum is generally when soil temperatures reach 60° F and increase after planting. For much of the region that I believe is best suited for sorghum this falls between April 1 and April 15 for south of I40 and April 15 and May 1 north of I40. graph below shows the long-term average daily 4″ soil temp (bare soil) for Apache, Blackwell, Cherokee, and Vinita. It is easy to see how your location within the state can impact soil temps.
You should not forget however that tillage practices will also impact soil temps. The two graphs below show the long-term average daily 4″ soil temp for Cherokee and Blackwell for both bare soil and under sod. Note that when the soil is covered by residue it warms slower. The two figures also show that residue will have more impact in some areas more so than others.
My best word of advise is to keep a watchful eye on the Mesonet. While the long-term average is nice to know here in Oklahoma the difference in weather from one year to the next can be huge. The figure below shows the average daily 4″ soil temp (below sod) from Blackwell for the past five years. Link to Mesonet Soil Temp page Click here.
Another great resource is a report on planting date written by Rick Kochenower presented to RMA. Link to report.
Key 2. Hybrid selection, primarily maturity group selection. Rick has created a great graphic that helps put a planting date window with maturity group. It is always important to visit with your local seed dealer to find out what has been performing best in your region and consider the importance of stay-green, standablilty and disease packages. But for me the number one key is the selection of maturity group. This should be based upon planting date and harvest strategies. Below is a great graphic created by Rick, while this may not be scientific it is a great guide created via years of experience. I also recommend that if you are planting a significant amount of acres you should diversify your maturity groups. Not only does this spread out he harvest window but it also you to spread the risk of high temps coming early or late. An additional resource is the Sorghum Performance trial summary located on the Ok Panhandle Research and Extension Center website. Click here.
Key 3. Soil Fertility, while soil pH plays a big role on sorghum productivity but it is too late in the game to do much about it this year. So the most important things to keep in mind on fertilizing sorghum are your macro-nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). It is my opinion that historically producers have underestimated the yield potential of sorghum and therefore lost yield due to under application on N. You should expect more than 60 to 80 bushel out of your crop if you put the right seed in the ground, at the right time and in the right way.
Ask around look at Rick’s yield data, producers in N. Central Ok on a good soil should be going for 125+ bpa easy. Unfortunately you are unlikely to hit these yield levels if you fertilize for a 75 bpa crop. An easy rule of thumb on N fertilization is 1.2 lbs of N per bushel, for a more exact number take a look at the image below. This comes from the corn and sorghum PeteSheet and is the same table that comes from the Soil Fertility Handbook. (If you would like some Pete Sheets just send me an email requesting them at firstname.lastname@example.org, Link to PeteSheets page).
Key 4. Weed Control With sorghum utilizing a pre-plant herbicide with residual is extremely important due to the lack of over the top options. Most times proper weed control will be accomplished by utilizing concept treated seed and use of labeled rates of a pre-emergent grass control herbicide combined with atrazine.
While I primarily focus of the four keys above there are a few other important items to consider.
Population: Prefer to think in terms of seeds per acre instead of lbs per acre. This comes into to play with the use of a planter. Rick Kochenower says “for seeding rate(on 30 inch rows), it isn’t as critical as most people think it is. Because most guys in Oklahoma tend to under plant not over plant. I always suggested 45,000 but as you look at the last slide it really don’t matter much. The way I always liked putting it is to make you sure have enough out there to not have to replant, because being late hurts more than having to few too many or too few plants.”
Row spacing: I like 30, but many may not have a planter so I suggest at least plugging every other hole in the drill to be at a 12″-20″ spacing. Make sure your population is correct for your row spacing. For this consult with your local seed dealer to match cultivar with row spacing and proper population.
Insects: Scouting for aphids and head midge is very important, these little critters are yield robbers and can gum up the works at harvest.
Harvest prep: I almost put this as the fifth key. By chemically maturing/terminating your crop you are both able to increase harvest efficiency and preserve moisture for a following winter crop of wheat or canola.
While this is a good start I suggest a visit with your local OSU Extension educator, consultant or seed dealer for information about your specific situation. Just know the crop has great potential to yield big if treated right. I like to say don’t treat your sorghum crop like the stray you adopted, treat it like your hunting dog that you traveled halfway across the country to pick up. Good luck in 2015 and I hope the rains fall when and were needed.