02/18/13 — Sorghum seed could be scarce

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Sorghum seed could be scarce

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 18, 2013 1:46 PM

An expected shortage of grain sorghum seed could slow the resurgence of the old crop that undergoing a renaissance because of its drought resistance and ability to thrive on marginal soil.

Planted in May and June, sorghum is a summer crop that is harvested in September. Most of the grain grown in the Wayne area stays close by, where it is used as a substitute for corn in feed since it is similar in nutritional value.

"The limiting factor this year will be seeds," said Wayne County Extension Service Director Kevin Johnson. "Seed is real short this year. That will be our most limiting factor this year, having enough seed available. A lot of the seed is ending up in west Texas. That is usually traditionally cotton country, but they have had some tough years.

"Cotton prices are down. They want to plant grain sorghum, so a lot of the seed has moved out to Texas. There is still seed here, although it is going to be a little harder to come by. Our growers need to secure the seed now. They don't need to plan on it and then wait until the last minute to get their seed. They need to make sure that they have a source."

Roughly 3,000 acres of grain sorghum, also known as milo, were planted in the county in 2012, up from about 75 acres in 2011. The crop was scattered across the county, but the majority was probably in its southern area, Johnson said.

Although heat and drought have taken a toll on the county's corn crop over the past several years, Johnson doesn't see farmers substituting grain sorghum for corn on productive land. He thinks the corn acreage will remain about the same as last year.

"We will still have 30,000 acres of corn and 60,000 acres of soybeans," he said.

Johnson also expects to see about 3,000 acres planted in grain sorghum, primarily because of the seed shortage.

"I can tell you that almost every grower who grew it last year, they liked it," he said. "It was a good fit into their operations. It grows on some marginal land that corn doesn't grow well on. Wayne County has a significant amount of marginal, sandy soil, particularly in the southern area.

"It is a little more drought tolerant. It doesn't cost as much to grow (as corn). It might not make the return you could on corn, but you can also lose a lot of money on corn that you wouldn't lose in grain sorghum. It is kind of a buffer risk, I guess you could say."

However, profit potential is not nearly as good as corn, and probably not even to the level of soybeans, Johnson said.

"But if you put it on marginal land where you know that you can't make corn, and you have trouble with making decent soybean yields, it is a good fit," he said. "It is a good rotational fit. It's got a real good fit in our area."

Corn seed is "real expensive" and grain sorghum seed will be less than the cost of corn, Johnson said.

"You won't have to put as much nitrogen out there (in the field)," he said. "So that is going to save you some on fertilizer. You still have to put out herbicides. You have still got to watch the insects, but you are going to save on fertilizer and seed cost.

"If we get a real good year you will get 150 bushels (of corn per acre), possibly even have some 200 bushels. You can count on a real good year in grain sorghum -- you can count on 100 bushels. Last year we had a bunch of 75 and 80 bushel grain sorghum. Of course, the price is about 95 percent of corn. Whatever the current market value is on corn, they are going to give you 95 percent of that price for grain sorghum. You are not going to make the same amount of money, but it is going to give you some potential in some marginal places that it is just too risky to try other crops."

The crop is not new to the county, having been planted here in the 1970s.

"But it just didn't have a fit then. It does now," Johnson said. "What is driving all of this is our local livestock integrators. Whatever they can produce in Wayne County, Duplin, Sampson, wherever, then that is that much more that they do not have to ship it in.

"Whatever they can buy local saves them money because they don't have to ship the grain in from the Midwest. Livestock is two-thirds of the county's farm income and we want to protect that. The way you protect is to grow it (feed) in county."