Ron Heiniger calls grain sorghum a “hidden gem” this year as North Carolina grain producers work to step up production to meet the demands of the state’s livestock industry.
Speaking at a meeting of grain producers sponsored by Murphy-Brown Feb. 4 in Raleigh, Heiniger, professor of crop science and cropping systems specialist at North Carolina State University, said achieving 100 bushel per acre yields in grain sorghum in North Carolina is “doable and possible and something we need to consider as we consider our marketing strategy for 2015.”
Murphy-Brown hosted the meeting because it wants to buy more local grain to feed its hogs rather than importing grain from the Midwest. Terry Coffey, Murphy-Brown’s chief science and technology officer, told the North Carolina grain producers that the North Carolina livestock sector has a huge appetite for grain.
“The livestock industry alone in this state consumes some 200 million bushels of grain; Murphy Brown consumes in this region 80 million bushels of grain. North Carolina historically produces 105 to 110 million bushels of grain and we want to get production up to 300 million bushels of grain.”
Coffey said the 300 million bushel level is a lofty but doable goal. He believes switching more acreage to grain sorghum in the state is an important way to meet that goal. He said Murphy-Brown would like to meet the 300 million bushel goal sooner rather than later. “We are halfway to 300 million bushels but we have a long way to go,” he said.
Murphy-Brown established the Mid-Atlantic Feed Grain Initiative to help North Carolina take steps to increase its feed grain production.
“The last three years, we’ve had the largest crops in recent history,” Coffey said. “In the past 20 years, we’ve gone from 110 million bushels to about 150 million bushels and that’s great. We need 300 million bushels. We have a huge appetite for grain. If you can grow it, we can buy it and we will buy it.”
Heiniger believes sorghum may be a more profitable alternative for many farmers this year, particularly in the sandy soils of the Southern Coastal Plains, where achieving strong yields in corn is a challenge.
Heiniger said the first step farmers must take in producing sorghum is hybrid selection. “Sorghum hybrids are now much better for heat and stress that we have in this state,” he said.
The use of a starter fertilizer is critical for farmers to reach the goal of producing 100 bushels per acre. “Proper fertility management is critical,” he stressed. “We could apply up to 90 pounds of nitrogen at planting, but we also need a side dress to get maximum yield.”
Anthracnose is a common disease for sorghum in North Carolina, and Heiniger says fungicide application at boot stage is critical for disease management. “For sorghum. It’s important to get good early emergence and growth,” he said.
“There is a very narrow window of timing for these fungicides to be effective in sorghum. You have to apply it before the flower starts to pollinate. Any time after that you’re effectiveness is going down rapidly so timing is very, very important,” he said.