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New Jersey’s sorghum king

Here is how Sam Santini grows a championship crop.

Chris Torres

December 26, 2023

2 Min Read
A wide view of a large field of grain sorghum
CHAMPIONSHIP SORGHUM: About 100 acres of grain sorghum are grown on Chris and Sam Santini’s farm in Stewartsville, N.J. They achieved the highest yield in this year’s National Sorghum Producers Yield Contest with 221.75 bushels an acre. Photos courtesy of Sam Santini

East Coast growers continue to prove they can grow sorghum with the best growers in the country.

This year, Chris and Sam Santini, who farm in Stewartsville, N.J., scored the highest yield in the National Sorghum Producers Yield Contest with 221.75 bushels an acre. The Santinis won first place in the Dryland No-Till Eastern category, growing Pioneer 85P58 seed.

Their 20-acre plot — an acre and a quarter was harvested and submitted for the contest by two Extension agents — was planted in mid-May using a John Deere 1795 planter. It was harvested in mid-October.

“I gave it another one or two fungicide sprays, and picked the right day to plant,” Sam Santini says. Picking a “clean plot” was also crucial, he says, considering he couldn’t go back in with Roundup after planting.

Chris and Sam Santini smile for a photograph in front of a tractor

While the clay loam soils that he farms near the Delaware River are great for yields, he thinks an unexpected event helped yields, too: the smoke from the Canadian wildfires.

“I think the smoke helped because of the sulfur,” Sam says. “The smoke put some sulfur in the air, and the corn that I didn’t push hard did very well this year.”

While 221 bushels is impressive, it’s not his best. That would have been in 2021 when he managed to grow 234.90 bushels an acre in his champion plot.

Sam farms 1,700 acres, split between corn, soybeans and grain sorghum. Only 100 acres are dedicated to grain sorghum, which he sells for birdseed and to attract pheasants for hunting clubs. He got the idea to plant sorghum after attending a recent Commodity Classic and thought the crop would work well in rotation with corn and soybeans.

But what started as just a hobby has become serious business.

“It needs everything. I treat it [sorghum] like my corn plots,” Sam says. “The sorghum gets everything that my corn plot gets. It gets fungicide; it gets a lot of different things.”

And speaking of corn, he also scored well in the National Corn Yield Contest, placing third nationally in the Conventional, Non-irrigated category with 342.88 bushels, growing Pioneer 14830AML.

Sorghum contest local winners

Irrigated Eastern

  • Howard DeShong, Lancaster County, Pa., 168.34 bushels, Pioneer 84G62

  • Promise Land Farms LLC, Warren County, N.J., 163.55 bushels, Pioneer 85P58

  • Mitch Quillen, Allegany County, Md., 155.96 bushels, Channel 6B95

Dryland No-Till Eastern

  • Carly Barlieb, Warren County, N.J., 173.57 bushels, Pioneer 85P58

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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