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What goes into a 200-bushel sorghum field?

In the latest "Down in the Weeds," Tom Hartman discusses his management practices that led to top-end yields.

Note: You can listen to my conversations with Dean Sombke and Tom Hartman by clicking on the Soundcloud link above.

For those who treat it like a primary crop, 200-bushel-per-acre grain sorghum is not out of the question.

In October, Tom Hartman harvested 201.3-bushel-per-acre sorghum on a field near Grand Island. The field, which was harvested as part of the National Sorghum Producer's yield contest, wasn't originally planted as a contest field. However, as the growing season progressed, Hartman and Dean Sombke, district sales manager of the Midwest region for Sorghum Partners, realized the field had potential for the contest.

In the latest "Down in the Weeds" podcast, we visit with Sombke and Hartman on the management that went into this field, as well as other tips for reaching top-end sorghum yields.

One unique factor for this field was that the sorghum was planted on 15-inch rows.

"You're trying to capture all of that sunlight to make that photosynthesis happen and not let that sunlight hit the ground when it gets to canopy in the field," says Sombke. "Based on what we did in this field, it was a medium-maturity product. And the 15-inch rows worked out really, really well, because we captured most of that sunlight without it hitting the ground. And also, when it hits the ground, it tends to help the weeds grow. Obviously by doing that with a closer spacing, you eliminate some of the weed pressure that you tend to get in sorghum also."

Another factor is fertilizing for higher yield. For example, Hartman fertilized about 1 pound of nitrogen per bushel yield goal.

However, Sombke notes that often farmers plant sorghum on their less fertile acres and don't fertilize for higher yields like they would for corn.

"Sorghum does do well in very poor soil. It does better than most other plants will," says Sombke. "But when you're putting this in the ground, it's very similar to corn — you're going to get what you put into it. And the University of Nebraska recommends 1 to 1.2 pounds of nitrogen available for every bushel yield goal. So does SDSU [South Dakota State University] and so does Kansas State. The old adage that you don't have to use as much fertilizer as you do on corn is not true."

"Treat it like corn, and you'll get yield like you do corn," he adds. "There are a lot of reasons to do sorghum, but don't skimp on the fertilizer, because you're going to end up with less yield."

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