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Grain sorghum management Logan Hawkes
Management necessary to maximize grain sorghum profit potential.

Agronomist urges tailoring inputs to sorghum yield goals

With grain prices low, grain sorghum producers may consider cutting costs, but a United Sorghum checkoff Program agronomist urges caution before taking deep cuts.

With grain markets refusing to show much, if any, profit potential, producers are looking for ways to manage production costs as they get closer to planting season.

The dilemma, says Brent Bean, director of agronomy for the United Sorghum Checkoff Program in Lubbock, Texas, is to make strategic cuts that maintain yield and quality. Speaking at the recent Texas Plant Protection Association  annual conference in Bryan, Bean noted five key practices growers must consider in  2017 production plans—hybrid selection, fertility, weed control and insect control.  Each is an essential aspect of a successful crop but also may offer opportunities to improve efficiency.

  1. Hybrid selection, Bean says, may be one of the most important decisions a producer makes, and one that dictates much of what happens the rest of the season. “Do a good job of selecting the right hybrid for the environment. Look at three (or more) years of variety trials and a number of locations. Hybrid selection can make a difference.”
  2. Seeding rate offers potential to save money, Bean says. He notes that research shows little yield difference from 30,000, 60,000, and 90,000 seed per acre. “Producers can save a little money with lower seed rates, although seed costs are relatively small.” He says a 30,000 seed per acre rate can yield 60 to 85 bushels. At 50,000 seed, yield potential could be as high as 135 bushels per acre.
  3. Adequate fertility to meet yield goals is essential, Bean says. “Nitrogen level has to be adequate. But look for the cheapest source, and consider residual nitrogen.” He recommends sampling to depth, down as far as four feet, to determine how much residual nitrogen is available. “Soil sampling is cheap.” Grain sorghum requires 1.2 pounds of nitrogen for every 100 pounds of yield goal. Split applications, 50 percent preplant, 30 percent sidedress and 20 percent at milk stage should improve nutrient efficiency. He recommends assessing organic matter levels. The crop may need from 60 pounds to 80 pounds of phosphorus (based on lab results), and potassium is seldom needed in Texas soils.
  4. “Producers need to apply a pre-emergence herbicide, based on identified weed species,” Bean says. “Select the best product but also look at price.”
  5. Insect control has become a much more significant chore since 2013, when the sugarcane aphid emerged as a damaging pest. “We have to control it,” he says. “Yield loss can be severe.” Control, he adds, is necessary as late as the soft dough stage. “Producers have to be on top of it; they have to scout (twice weekly) and spray when populations reach threshold. “Don’t spray before threshold,” he advises. “That just wastes money.” Current treatment threshold is 50 to 125 aphids per leaf. Control options include Sivanto, which has a full label, and Transform, which has been available on a Section 18 permit for the last few years.

Bean says producers may use the lower of the recommended rates for both products in most cases. “Good coverage is essential.” He also recommends rotating the products if more than one application is necessary to prevent aphids from developing resistance.

Tolerant hybrids make a difference, Bean says. “We may still need to treat, but we’ve seen significantly less damage on tolerant hybrids. Make certain the tolerant option is a good fit for your area.” The Sorghum Checkoff Program has a list of sugarcane aphid tolerant hybrids on the website.

Bean says a producer’s first consideration is to “determine an optimistic but realistic yield goal for any given field. Inputs should be tailored to that goal.”

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