Cawker City farmer Ray DeBey won the 2006 National sorghum Yield and Management Contest, with a 5.5-acre plot of Pioneer 84G62 that yielded 168.64 bushels per acre, exceeding the Mitchell County average of 71.5 bushels per acre by 98.44 bushels.
DeBey says the entire field that contained the yield contest plot averaged 117.35 bushels per acre. The plot was harvested from an area within the field that has excellent clay-loam soils, a good fit for the Pioneer 84G62 hybrid. Lessons learned from the yield contest plot, however, are implemented throughout the farm.
A long-term no-tiller, DeBey says crop rotation provides a big benefit. He grows two consecutive years of wheat followed by a year each of grain sorghum and soybeans before going back to wheat. Depending upon weed pressure and field type, the grain sorghum may be switched with corn or sunflowers. Soybeans, he adds, improve yield in following crops, he adds.
DeBey seeds grain sorghum at a rate of 4.2 pounds per acre with a John Deere 1860 air seeder. Actual seed drop was about 46,000 seeds per acre. Seed is planted 1.25-inches deep on 15-inch centers. Planting speed is no faster than 5.5 miles per hour.
As a Pioneer Hi-Bred seed dealer, DeBey studies new seed products and company research. Pioneer's venerable 84G62, however, is his choice for obtaining high-yields (incidentally, that hybrid was planted on 10 of the 16 top entries in the 2006 contest.) It works well for him, but he encourages all farmers to study hybrid selection carefully.
"I no-till into wheat stubble and have extra moisture, which allows me to plant a fuller season hybrid like 84G62, which has a better shot at higher yields because it can use the extra moisture," he explains.
DeBey usually plants grain sorghum in late May, after soybean planting is complete. Planting date dictates the combination of grain sorghum hybrids used. His goal is to avoid flowering during extreme summer heat, which may require planting shorter season hybrids earlier, or medium maturity hybrids later.
Fields are soil tested every other year. DeBey sets a 125 bushel per acre yield goal each year; nutrients are applied accordingly.
Last year, DeBey added a biological nitrogen builder to the seed. The product, azospirillum, is a dry bacterium applied to the seed in the grain drill, like an inoculant. Bacterium colonizes along the root tips, feeding off phytohormones to increase soil nitrogen content. Sold by TerraMax, azospirillum is used by South American no-tillers, according to soil scientist Jill Clapperton, who spoke at the 2006 No-Till on the Plains Winter Meeting in Salina.
DeBey isn't positive that azospirillum helped his sorghum yields in 2006. But it may be one more piece to solving the complicated puzzle of balancing yield and profit. "The more things you don't purchase, like nitrogen, the better profit for the guy growing the crop," he says.
Soil tests help farmers learn how organic matter, soil types and crop sequencing interact. It's a practice that many of his seed customers are using.
"Progressive growers understand what works on a field by field basis and we can recommend hybrids for each field. Growers that are in tune to their soils can choose from a lot of hybrids to fit their needs," he says. "If farmers work toward understanding exactly what they need, those are the things that make money."