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Atrazine, sorghum can be bad mix

When grain sorghum grew off a bit this season, the calls started coming in to Arkansas Extension weed scientist Ken Smith. “One day there wasn't anything. The next day, my phone lit up like a Christmas tree,” says Smith.

Almost everyone complained that his grain sorghum just didn't look right.

“I can't tell you how many fields I've walked this year — with county Extension agents and alone. What we've come up with is that most of what's being seen is due to atrazine.”

Atrazine is the spine of a grain sorghum program. Farmers are supposed to use atrazine all along — put out atrazine and come back with even more. That can work against farmers in certain situations though, says Smith, who spoke at the Arkansas Corn Board meeting in Stuttgart, Ark., on July 12.

“We had a short dry spell early this year and planted early. Everyone wanted to plant sorghum early so they could plant other crops like cotton or rice.

“When we did that we set ourselves up for some problems. Remember, grain sorghum is a warm/hot-season crop. It doesn't like cold weather at all. Cold grain sorghum is purple. But cold grain sorghum with atrazine is even more purple.”

A large portion of the grain sorghum yield has definitely been hurt by atrazine. While a good product, atrazine is always hard on the crop, says Smith.

“There are some people who plant grain sorghum, and there are some who farm it. There's a difference. Those who plant it may not put fertilizer down at the optimum time. The crop stresses, and atrazine causes further problems.

“I don't want to sound like I'm running atrazine down. It works very well. But it certainly hurt the crop this year.”

If the grain sorghum gets up and growing, atrazine won't hurt nearly as bad. However, two shots of atrazine will always be risky, says Smith.

“I just got an e-mail from Lannie Ashlock (Arkansas Extension soybean specialist). He's calling a meeting soon about nematode problems in Arkansas soybeans. The problems these things are causing in the state are terrible. If this continues, I'm guessing the number one response to nematodes will be a rotation to grain sorghum. We should see a whole lot more acres in sorghum soon,” says Smith.

If the problems continue, farmers may be forced to more grain sorghum on their soybean acreage whether they want to plant it or not.

Arkansas Extension grain sorghum specialist William Johnson agrees. “This year, we're slated for 160,000 to 170,000 acres of the crop. I think that may be a little low. There's probably 30,000 to 40,000 acres more than last year,” says Johnson.

The nematode situation in Arkansas soybeans could cause grain sorghum acreage to double next year. It has the potential to be a dramatic jump — maybe upwards of 300,000 acres, says Johnson.

If the crop does claim that many acres, it still won't reach the historical high mark. Arkansas once grew 750,000 to 900,000 acres of grain sorghum.

Smith says the crop's hardiness is undeniable. At one of the research stations where Smith works, “hail took out our soybeans and cotton. From the way it looked (after the storm), I wouldn't have given you 15 cents for all the grain sorghum on the station. But it's come back and looks to be a 3,000-pound or more crop — not too bad for a Memorial Day hailstorm that we thought had ruined the crop completely.”

Johnson says despite some concerns earlier, the crop looks very strong statewide.

“Farmers and Extension agents I've spoken with across the state are really high on the crop. Right now, farmers need to be scouting for midge flies. I've been getting some calls from farmers claiming they have no grain on sorghum heads.”

After asking a few questions, Johnson says, it becomes obvious the farmers have had the pests on their crop. Having midges on the crop during pollination leads to bad grain quality. While midge flies are not suspected of being too widespread, farmers should be vigilant in watching for the pest, says Johnson.

Harvest should start in extreme southeast Arkansas the first week of August.

Corn should be coming along the same time, “and it's looking like the best we've ever had. There are non-irrigated fields that will make 160 bushels. A lot of irrigated corn fields will push 200 bushels. This year's corn is simply beautiful,” says Johnson.


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