GRAIN SORGHUM (MILO) PRODUCTION GUIDELINES

May, 2000

 

Gregory Endres                                                   Duane Berglund

Area Extension Specialist/Cropping Systems           Extension Agronomist

NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center          NDSU, Fargo

 

Adaptation to North Dakota: Sorghum is a warm‑season grass grown as an annual feed grain. Generally it is grown in areas with lower (and variable) rainfall because of its relative drought and high temperature tolerance compared to other crops. Sorghum can produce numerous tillers and heads over several weeks to help minimize the effect of short-term moisture deficiency. Small grain production equipment is appropriate for grain sorghum production and may be considered as a partial substitute for small grain or corn. Potential for production is primarily in the southern‑half of North Dakota. Sorghum has higher production risks in North Dakota compared to traditional crops.

 

Yield potential: Limited university testing in North Dakota has indicated variable yields. Below-normal temperatures during the growing season are the primary limiting production factor whereas above-normal temperatures will improve yield potential. Performance of this warm-season crop will be poor with growing season temperatures below 60 degrees F. Seed yield has ranged from 0 to 110 bushels/acre in dryland grain sorghum hybrid performance trials during the 1990's at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. In 1999, commercial field yields of up to 125 bushels/acre (Cass County) were reported. Hybrid testing in 2000 will be expanded to other NDSU Research Extension Centers.

 

Hybrid selection: Early‑maturing hybrids of 80‑ to 85‑day relative maturity are recommended.

Hybrid choices exist but selection currently is limited for North Dakota production. Besides maturity and yield potential, also consider seedling vigor, plant height, lodging resistance, stress and disease tolerance, panicle type, test weight, and seed quality (including tannin levels). Low tannin levels are desirable. Hybrids with white and bronze seed color are currently grown and marketed in North Dakota.

 

Soil Conditions and Fertility: Fertile, well‑drained soils are important to optimize yield. Grain

sorghum is more tolerant of wet soils than most grain crops.  Sorghum has moderate salt tolerance - slightly less than wheat but higher than corn.

 

Nitrogen requirement is 1.1 pounds/acre for each bushel of grain yield. It is best to have fertilizer

placement separate from seed, but a maximum of 10 pounds N/acre may be placed with the seed.

Sorghum response to phosphorus is most likely on soils testing medium or lower. See the following table for N and P recommendations for grain sorghum based on yield goal and soil analysis.

 

Nutrient recommendations for grain sorghum

Yield goal

Soil N plus fertilizer N required

Soil test phosphorus, ppm (Olsen)

VL

L

M

H

0-3

4-7

8-11

12-15

bu/acre

lb/acre – 2 foot depth

lb P2O5/acre

60

65

35

25

15

0

80

90

50

35

20

10

100

110

60

45

25

10

120

130

70

55

30

15

 

Stand Establishment: Plant establishment is slower and generally more challenging compared to wheat or corn. Shoots won’t emerge if the seed is placed too deeply and seedlings are not as vigorous as corn.  Root system development progresses more rapidly than above-ground growth during about the first month of plant establishment, providing the appearance of abnormal plant development.

 

*seeding depth: 1 to 2  inches. Plant at shallow depths in fine‑textured soils and deeper in

coarse‑textured soils.

 

*seeding rate and row spacing: Seeding rates of 5 to 10 pounds/acre may be used, although 8 pounds/acre is a common rate. Consider using a seeding rate based on establishing a desired population of plants/acre due to variability in seed size. For example, in recent trials at the Carrington Research Extension Center, seed count has ranged from about 25,000 to over 50,000 seeds/pound. About 70 to 75% of planted sorghum seed will establish viable plants. Establish populations of 30,000 to 70,000 plants/acre in 30‑inch rows, 70,000 to 90,000 plants/acre in 15‑inch rows, and up to 120,000 plants/acre in 6- to 7-inch rows. Narrower rows increase yield potential by 10 to 15% based on university studies. Narrow rows increase crop competition with weeds although between‑row cultivation would not be an option.

 

Weed Management: Mechanical weed control options include: pre‑plant, pre‑emergence (before

coleoptile near the soil surface) or post‑emergence (crop emergence to 6‑inches tall) with a light, spring-tooth harrow or rotary hoe, and between‑row tillage for wide‑rowed grain sorghum. Tillage for seedbed preparation followed by shallow cultivation just prior to planting will control initial weed populations and provide the opportunity to establish sorghum ahead of later-emerging weeds.  Sorghum is a poor competitor with weeds during stand establishment.

 

*seeding rate and row spacing: Seeding rates of 5 to 10 pounds/acre may be used, although 8 pounds/acre is a common rate. Consider using a seeding rate based on establishing a desired population of plants/acre due to variability in seed size. For example, in recent trials at the Carrington Research Extension Center, seed count has ranged from about 25,000 to over 50,000 seeds/pound. About 70 to 75% of planted sorghum seed will establish viable plants. Establish populations of 30,000 to 70,000 plants/acre in 30‑inch rows, 70,000 to 90,000 plants/acre in 15‑inch rows, and up to 120,000 plants/acre in 6- to 7-inch rows. Narrower rows increase yield potential by 10 to 15% based on university studies. Narrow rows increase crop competition with weeds although between‑row cultivation would not be an option.

 

Weed Management: Mechanical weed control options include: pre‑plant, pre‑emergence (before

coleoptile near the soil surface) or post‑emergence (crop emergence to 6‑inches tall) with a light, spring-tooth harrow or rotary hoe, and between‑row tillage for wide‑rowed grain sorghum. Tillage for seedbed preparation followed by shallow cultivation just prior to planting will control initial weed populations and provide the opportunity to establish sorghum ahead of later-emerging weeds.  Sorghum is a poor competitor with weeds during stand establishment.

 

Herbicides can be used to allow adequate crop establishment. Herbicide options based on application timing include: Pre‑plant incorporated = atrazine, Dual or Dual II Magnum, Frontier, Lasso, and Paramount; Pre‑emergence = atrazine, Dual or Dual II Magnum, Frontier, Lasso, and Ramrod; Post‑emergence = atrazine + oil, Banvel or Clarity, Basagran, Buctril, Laddock S-12, Paramount, Peak, Permit and 2,4‑D. Dual, Dual II Magnum, Frontier, and Lasso can be used only when sorghum seed is treated with a safener (e.g. Concept or Screen). Preharvest: Glyphosate. Refer to herbicide labels and SDSU publication FS525-D “Weed control in sorghum: 2000" (www.abs.sdstate.edu/abs/PDF/FS525D.pdf) for required information on use.

 

Disease and Insect Management: Disease and insects have not been economic concerns in North Dakota. Seed and seedling rots may be prevented with high-quality, fungicide-treated seed. Choose hybrids with good seedling vigor, adequate stalk strength and tolerance to head smut, Fusarium, and charcoal rot. Periods of high humidity and warm air temperatures may cause some reddish or purple leaf streaking or spotting, but the problem is not considered a serious threat to grain yield. Use hybrid selection, high-quality seed, proper crop rotation, and other cultural practices to minimize disease potential. Potential insect problems include green bugs and grasshoppers. Select hybrids with green bug tolerance. Economic thresholds and foliar insecticides are available for green bug management in grain sorghum. Several insecticides also are available for grasshopper control. Birds may be a threat as grain nears maturity.

 

Harvest and Storage: Frost will terminate plant growth. If the plant is prematurely killed by frost, grain development is terminated although the grain will dry much more quickly compared to immature corn. Harvest occurs about 7 to 14 days after a killing frost, typically during late September to mid October. Combines with small grain straight-cut headers are used for harvesting a narrow-rowed crop or an all-crop header may be used in wide-rowed sorghum.

 

No special handling is necessary for the crop. Grain at or below 14% percent moisture is considered dry. Grain may be harvested at moisture levels up to about 20%. Conventional grain dryers or use of natural-air drying are options for drying grain. For long-term storage (more than 6 months), grain moisture content should be a maximum of 13.5%.

 

Use: Cash crop for livestock feed and bird food markets. Grain sorghum also may be used as a forage crop, but would be lower yielding than forage sorghum or sorghum-sudangrass hybrids.

 

Markets: Selected grain elevators are offering cash markets for grain sorghum sold as feed grain. Currently, elevators located in southeast North Dakota, at Arthur, Ayr, Edgeley, Kulm, LaMoure, Milnor, and Monango, will handle the crop. Cash prices are about 90% of corn on a bushel basis. Contracts may be available for birdseed markets. Grain sorghum is a major commodity crop in the U.S. and production is supported by the Farm Service Agency (loan and LDP payments available).  moisture levels up to about 20%. Conventional grain dryers or use of natural-air drying are options for drying grain. For long-term storage (more than 6 months), grain moisture content should be a maximum of 13.5%.

 

Use: Cash crop for livestock feed and bird food markets. Grain sorghum also may be used as a forage crop, but would be lower yielding than forage sorghum or sorghum-sudangrass hybrids.

 

Markets: Selected grain elevators are offering cash markets for grain sorghum sold as feed grain. Currently, elevators located in southeast North Dakota, at Arthur, Ayr, Edgeley, Kulm, LaMoure, Milnor, and Monango, will handle the crop. Cash prices are about 90% of corn on a bushel basis. Contracts may be available for birdseed markets. Grain sorghum is a major commodity crop in the U.S. and production is supported by the Farm Service Agency (loan and LDP payments available).