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Could Mid-South grain sorghum acres increase in 2021?

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Grain sorghum acres could increase in 2021 thanks to rising prices.
It's been some time since grain sorghum acres spiked. Is 2021 the year?

After an almost non-existent grain sorghum crop in 2020, experts say rising prices could have sorghum acres increasing in 2021. 

“Low prices have been the driving factor for low grain sorghum acreage in Arkansas and across the Midsouth the past three to four years,” said Jason Kelley, professor and Wheat and Feed Grains Extension Agronomist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. 

“At $3/bu, which has been the going price for a couple of years, it’s so hard to make a profit. However, with current prices closer to $5/bu we’ll likely see some grain sorghum acres return.” 

For many Mid-South producers, grain sorghum has typically played the role of an important, but minor rotational crop, and acreage has varied widely. As an example, Arkansas producers planted just 10,000 acres of grain sorghum in 2020, while just five years earlier they planted 450,000 acres. 2015 was also the last time grain sorghum prices topped $5/bu. 

While Kelley believes current prices will bring back some sorghum acres, especially in non-irrigated areas, he’s not expecting the spike we saw in 2015. 

“With the recent jump in soybean prices, large acreage expansions will have some competition from soybeans in 2021,” said Kelley, “but seeing acres up in the 100,000 to 200,000 range is quite possible.” 

Kelley says the increase in prices is in part due to renewed purchase activity from China.  

“Farmers are currently able to lock in $4.75/bu in the Memphis area, which is a very good price for grain sorghum,” Kelley said. 

Most of Arkansas’ acreage is grown in the handful of counties in close proximity to the Memphis markets. Lesser amounts are grown primarily in Central and Northeast Arkansas.  Very little to no grain sorghum has been grown in the western half of Arkansas over the last few years due to limited marketing options. 

For growers returning to sorghum for the first time in a while, Kelley says early planting is key to maximize yields and minimize inputs for pest management.  

“For us planting date has a big impact on success and profitability of grain sorghum,” Kelley said. “In a six-year planting date study we conducted a few years ago, April to early May plantings maximized yields every year.  Once we get to Mid-May or later (depending on location in state) yields started to drop and insect management became more critical for control of sorghum midge, headworms, and sugarcane aphids.”    

The Univeristy of Arkansas Division of Agriculture provides more information on grain sorghuum production practices online.

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