January 21, 2004 | By: Laura Skillman
HENDERSON, Ky.

Good prices and good productivity on marginal soils have farmers taking an interest in grain sorghum production in Kentucky.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service office in Henderson County recently hosted a meeting on grain sorghum to help answer questions of growers and prospective growers.

Bill Gentry has been growing grain sorghum or milo since 1994 and had encouraged Mike Smith, Henderson County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, to conduct a production meeting. Gentry was pleased with the results.

“In Kentucky it is a pretty new crop and we didn’t have much information so somebody needed to help us and it was wonderful,” he said. “We farm the river bottoms and have applied atrazine and get flooded out we went to milo as a necessity. We’ve tried it in other fields and it seems to work best in marginal ground. That’s were the profit seems to work out for us. It’s part of our plan now rather than just using it to put out a fire.”

Gentry said more farmers are looking at milo because of its success on marginal ground and because the markets are better. Three years ago it was selling for 25-cents under fall corn and now they are selling it at a premium to corn, he said. That’s changed the whole marketing concept.                                

He warns though, that farmers need to have a convenient market for the milo. There is a local market for milo in the Henderson area.

“Henderson is in the heart of Kentucky’s grain sorghum production,” Smith said. He noted there are not large acreages in the state. “However, we are getting enough questions that we need some answers. It is not for everybody or for every soil type.”

Two of the most important things in terms of milo production are picking out a good variety and weed control, said Chad Lee, UK grain crops specialist. Nutritional needs should be based on soil testing information, he said.  In addition, nitrogen requirements for milo are less than they are for corn, which is a factor some farmers will want to consider when facing higher nitrogen prices.

May generally is the best time to plant grain sorghum but can be planted into June and still yield well. Milo can withstand hot, dry conditions better than corn or soybeans and it also has demonstrated more tolerance to excessive moisture than corn.

As with most crops, rotating fields planted in milo with other crops in subsequent years is important to the management of disease, pest and weed control, Lee said.

“Diseases and insects are an issue but they are much less of an issue than weed control and picking out a good quality variety and getting it planted on time. Having that good clean seed bed and getting it off to a good start can have value,” he said.

Shawn Conley, a cropping system specialist from the University of Missouri, outlined some research efforts under way in his state as well as an overview of grain sorghum production.

“There’s not been a lot of scientific research done on milo,” he said. Corn, on the other hand, has received extensive scientific work. However, he noted there are instances were milo is a superior crop to corn.

“If you have a high yield potential environment, then you are going to plant corn,” he said.  “What you’re looking at are medium to low environments. That’s where we have a niche for milo.”

Over the long term milo is much more stable on variable environmental situations whereas corn will have many more peaks and valleys in terms of yields.

For the 2003 crop, farmers were also seeing a price advantage for milo, Conley noted.  That is helping to drive interest in the crop.     

Grain sorghum is slow growing early and does not compete well with weeds. Three keys for dealing with weeds in milo are avoiding weedy fields, using maximum herbicide rates and using herbicides in a timely manner, said Jim Martin, UK Extension weeds scientist.

Herbicide options are more limited for use in grain sorghum than with corn, he said. But there are products available to aid in weed control. The use of pre-emergence herbicide products is a must in Kentucky, Martin said.

For more information on grain sorghum contact a county Extension Service office or visit the UK grain sorghum web page at www.uky.edu/Ag/GrainCrops/grain_sorghum.htm

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Contact: 

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Chad Lee, 859-257-3203; Jim Martin, 270-365-7541 ext. 203; Mike Smith, 270-826-8387