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sorghum-field

2020 looks like promising year for sorghum

Sorghum Focus: Farmers are looking to plant more sorghum acres as China shows interest.

It’s that time of year again! #Plant20 is almost complete for many farmers, and some are even beginning to see their crops peeking out of the ground for the first time. After the rough start to 2019, this is a beautiful sight for many parts of the Sorghum Belt and beyond!

Due to its lower cost of production and renewed interest from China, sorghum has once again been on many farmers’ radars this planting season.

USDA is projecting an increase from 5.3 million acres last year to 5.8 million acres this year, and we expect the increase to be even larger when the planting report drops in late June. This means a lot of farmers will be back in the sorghum business for the first time in a couple years, so here are a few refreshers related to agronomy, basis and the futures market.

Agronomy

Many farmers turned away from sorghum not because of a lack of markets but rather to avoid problems associated with sugarcane aphids. While aphid pressure has become less pronounced as sorghum farmers have become more proficient at managing outbreaks, vigilance is still a necessity.

Fields should be scouted once a week — and at least twice a week at first sign of the pest. While threshold levels vary by region, most farmers adept at managing aphids treat when 25% of the plants are infested with 50 aphids per leaf.

Beyond sugarcane aphids, the most significant problem facing sorghum farmers is weed pressure. The best method for keeping fields clean will always be preventing outbreaks altogether by being aggressive with pre-emergence herbicides.

For farmers with time left for a preemergence program, Brent Bean, sorghum checkoff agronomist, recommends common mixes such as atrazine and S-metolachlor (e.g., Bicep II Magnum), atrazine and acetochlor (e.g., Degree Xtra, Fultime NXT), or atrazine plus S-metolachlor and mesotrione (e.g., Lumax EZ).

Always pay close attention to label requirements related to soil type and crop rotation.

For farmers who already have emerged sorghum, remember it is much easier to kill small weeds than large weeds. For postemergence control, atrazine plus crop oil can be a good choice on small weeds. For larger weeds, consider Huskie plus a low rate of atrazine and ammonium sulfate. An additional option is bromoxynil plus atrazine and 2-4 ounces of dicamba.

Basis

We’ve already seen big moves in new crop bids, so watch your basis like a hawk. Even in 2015-2016, when China bought 75% of the U.S. sorghum crop and drove prices to historic highs relative to corn, there wasn’t much appreciation in new crop bids. However, earlier this year, new crop bids jumped for the first time ever in many locations.

The spike was short-lived, but farmers who recognized historically good bids and took advantage are positioned well today. Just remember the adage: Don’t lose a dollar chasing a nickel. When basis is better than ever, begin layering into the market. Don’t hold out for basis twice as good as ever. Sorghum basis is notoriously volatile, so don’t take any chances.

Futures market

Similarly, farmers should begin layering into any runs in the futures market as early as possible. Corn futures have rallied in late spring or early summer in each of the last five years, and while a move to $4 or higher might not be likely, it’s hard to believe something won’t spook those with short positions at least once this growing season.

As with basis appreciation earlier this year, such opportunities may be short-lived, so be ready.

With all the negativity in the news today, it’s easy to get discouraged. But remember, most of what’s happening today is completely beyond your control. Your yields and the price you receive for your crop, on the other hand, can be directly and positively impacted by sound management decisions. This is a lot of power. Use it wisely.

Duff is executive vice president for National Sorghum Producers. He can be reached by email at john@sorghumgrowers.com or on Twitter @sorghumduff.

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