Considerations When Planting Sorghum

(Jim) Good morning folks. Welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer, your host, and we’re in luck because we’re going to be speaking Dr. Ignacio Ciampitti our Row Crops Specialist about sorghum. And it’s that time of year to be thinking about sorghum and Ignacio is going to be answering all our questions. So we’re going to take a break now, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsor. See you in a minute.

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(Jim) Good morning folks. Welcome to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer your host and we’re in luck because we’re on the agronomy farm at K-State and we also have Dr. Ignacio Ciampitti, our Row Crops Specialist with us today and we’re going to be talking about growing sorghum. So Ignacio, it’s getting that time here pretty soon to be putting sorghum in the ground. What are some of the things we need to be thinking about? I’m thinking about planting date. Let’s talk about planting date first. (Ignacio) Yes, when you are talking about planting date, one of the main factors that is always coming to my mind is soil temperature. There are some guys they want to try and push early and the question is how early you can go on sorghum. But then, on sorghum, it’s a little more flexible when you think about corn and when you think about soybeans, right?(Jim) Right. (Ignacio) In corn we are talking sometimes about 55 degrees, in soybeans we are talking about 60 degrees. In sorghum we can probably see that, I like to see more temperatures going to 65, and I want to see those plants coming out right on time, five, seven days after. In sorghum for me, one of the main things is uniformity also. Sometimes it’s not so much related to plants and the space between plants, because sorghum can compensate. (Jim) Because of the tillering. (Ignacio) Because of the tillering, of course if we are talking about big gaps, it would be hard to compensate big gaps. But we are talking about emergence, and we are talking about how fast the duration in time between planting and emergence. When we are looking at, we are one week, 10 days, I think that we are in good conditions, plants coming at the same time, when we are looking at the seeds sitting there for two, three weeks, then is when we start to see a lot of issues, on lack of population, lack of uniformity, and then those situations are really hard to compensate. (Jim) And then you got weed control issues when you’ve got big gaps and that sort of thing. (Ignacio) That’s one of, probably when we had a nice kind of a survey going around with farmers a couple years ago, What is the number one factor for sorghum production weed control? (Jim) Weed control. (Ignacio) So when you are thinking or planting your sorghum, population is one factor that could be essential when you are thinking about weed control. (Jim) Or there are some issues of planting on the too late side. And that’s on the backside at maturity, right? (Ignacio) Yes, exactly. Some people are saying, If I’m going too late I might be able to put my blooming time into a really nice environment. Summer rain I’m catching those late season summer rains and I’m catching temperatures dropping down. What might be one of the many issues is, what is the probability of finishing your crop? (Jim) Right, right. (Ignacio) If you place your blooming time, way too late in the season, the probability for that crop to finish, it will probably decrease quite fast, more when you are moving from late August, early September and more when you are thinking in the north section of the state. I’m thinking northwest, I’m thinking north central, those areas are the ones that push in way too late blooming time, it will put you in a big issue to finish the crop. (Jim) Also the Northern part of the state especially North West, is that nighttime temperatures are cooler so it’s already slowing down in that August early September rain. (Ignacio) Yes, it’s a mix of those combinations of cool temperatures. (Jim) We have a publication on the probability of freezing at various blooming times across the state. (Ignacio) Exactly, yes. (Jim) Hang on we’ve got to take a break. Folks stay with us, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer your host, and with us we have Ignacio Ciampitti, we are talking about grain sorghum. We talked a little bit about planting dates a second ago, let’s talk about plant populations because that’s like corn, and that sort of thing there is a wide range of populations across the state based on moisture. (Ignacio) It’s a very good point that you’re bringing in the conversation, most of the people tend to think about corn as an example for plant population, most of the times, and so we are not seeing those responses. Most of the time we are not seeing that increasing population is really a big factor on sorghum. There is a big separation when you go to Western Kansas. (Jim) And rainfall 12, 16, 18 inches. (Ignacio) Exactly, when we are talking in those environments probably our optimum population might be around 20, 25,000 plants, and in some situations even lower than that. When you are more into Central Kansas you are talking about more 40,000 or even 50,000, 60,000 plants. And then in some scenarios that we have farmers working on the Eastern side, they are even pushing sometimes 70,000 or 80,000 plants. (Jim) 90, and irrigated. (Ignacio) In irrigated conditions, so population tends to be a factor. We are looking most of the time to the same scenario. Increase in some yield potential in environments, it looks like you can change population and you will see these responding to those changes. Sorghum, the main difference with corn, is the ability to compensate. (Jim) You’re talking about tillering. (Ignacio) Exactly. That’s one of the things when we are working with farmers, we are always making sure that they understand this concept on the idea of saying, we are not looking at plants per acre. We are looking at heads… (Jim) Heads. (Ignacio) …per acre. Just to give kind of a simple math, a farmer in Western Kansas planting 20,000 or less, having 20,000 plants per acre, if we get two or three tillers in those, you get 40,000 or 50,000 heads per acre. If you go to a different scenario in Central Kansas a farmer planting 40,000, 50,000, if he gets only one tiller on those, he gets exactly the same number of heads per acre. At the end of the day it’s not really so much about the plants per acre, but also we need to take a look to see how those plants will be compensating on tillering. (Jim) It’s the basis of how much rainfall you get during the season. If the weather is good that sorghum plant’s going to react to it by tillering more or vice versa, if they don’t get it, it may just have like you said just one or two. (Ignacio) Tillering is really connected, it’s a good point, it’s really connected to temperature, radiation, and supply of resources. When the plant is looking at temperature radiation and nutrient supply and resources are abundant, the plant is start tillering. It’s a response to increase the biomass and increase the plant. When the plant is in very poor environments, those tillers are not coming. Sometimes they are coming too late, and that poses some other issues. (Jim) Yes, big difference in maturity date. (Ignacio) In maturity, yes. Exactly. (Jim) The early heads versus the light heads. (Ignacio) Exactly. (Jim) We’ve got to take a break here now Ignacio so hang on, don’t run off, okay, like you did the last time. Folks stay with us, we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer. Ignacio didn’t run off during the break, thank you Ignacio for that. It’s kind of hard to chase you down out in the field. Hey let’s talk a little bit about sorghum hybrids. I know you’ve got a graduate student that has been working on that. (Ignacio) Yes, we are having a student working the last two years in five locations across the state, with a view of trying to quantify how the hybrids respond under different rainfall environments. Just a simple question of all the hybrids responding the same way, can we just pick any hybrid and some will just yield. I think that’s one of the main messages after two years we have 18 sites. (Jim) Site years. (Ignacio) Site years. Then you start to see the complexity behind it. Then when someone is starting to do the hybrid and then they say, Well, they are all similar. Not at all! We need to start using more of the information that we’re collecting in our crop performance test. (Jim) K-State does it. (Ignacio) At K-State we have a crop performance test, we try different hybrids in different locations, so the agents are working and putting them uploads. We have information in hybrids coming from several sections in the state. Main question is, how many of our farmers are really using it? I’m encouraging them to start taking a look close. (Jim) If you’re not, if you’re already doing it you’re probably maximizing profits, if you’re not you’re losing out. (Ignacio) Yes, and sometimes it’s just amazing by glancing at some of those pages you tend to see differences in hybrids and they are 10, 15 bushels. Then you take a look to maturity group and they are exactly the same. Then sometimes we emphasize so much about seeding rates or row space, you know. Then how much are we talking about hybrid selection? This story with my graduate student we were looking at those sites, and then we tend to see some hybrids they are aggressive in responding, they respond not really that well in dryland situations when you are below 100 bushels, but their responses are very aggressive when you start going to 150 or above. Then we have some hybrids that they were very stable. That’s when you are going to a low environment, less than 100 bushels or more than 150; they were always kind of very consistent on the yield. (Jim) You’re not going to get hurt on the low end but you’re not going to maximize the high end of those. (Ignacio) Exactly. It’s like taking a conservative approach. You’re not maximizing your yields on the high end but still you’re doing very well and probably the best on the lower side. (Jim) The cost of seed, wouldn’t you be advantaged to go with a variety that is pretty aggressive and even will really respond to it, if the season doesn’t cost too much? (Ignacio) The seed difference sometimes is so minimal. What we need to start making sure is we need to start using those hybrids in different environments. We could not plant with the same hybrids in different locations. We are seeing differences sometimes of 10 bushels just from the bag and that’s one of the things that we need to emphasize. (Jim) Just because your father-in-law is selling the seed doesn’t mean necessarily you should be planting it. Well maybe you should, if you want to have the farm later on. (Ignacio) Exactly. You should. At least someone hand me the small acres but be smart enough to take a look closely at that information, and to use that information for your own benefit. (Jim) There are some big differences aren’t there? We’ve got to take a break. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer your host, and with us we have Ignacio Ciampitti our real crops specialist. We’re talking about sorghum by the way. Ignacio, there’s a lot of corn being planted over the past few years, and maybe to the detriment or reduction of acres of wheat and grain sorghum. But not all acres should be planted to corn necessarily. Where’s that point where sorghum should be planted or maybe where corn should be planted? What’s the research tell us on that? (Ignacio) Well there is a very good summary that we performed at K-State in the last five years, basically trying to identify which one is the breaking point, at some point where we are looking about using sorghum versus using corn. So while we were coming out on that research was when we were looking about 120, 110 bushel, is a point that we are looking below that number, okay? Is that a point that sorghum tends to be more efficient? (Jim) So anything above 120, the yield environment consistently yielding 120, say corn’s probably your best option? (Ignacio) Yes and most of the time it’s connected to the water usage efficiency topic. And it’s very simplistic approach of, definition of water usage efficiency is increasing yields with the same water. That’s my view on it. And then what we are looking at is sorghum is a very good crop and very efficient in using the same level of water and increasing yields in low yielding environments, when we are going to 120 below. When we are looking about 120 above we are seeing that in those situations corn seems to be more productive. And then there is a separation on the corn yield potential. Corn tends to be more aggressive on the high yielding environments. Corn demands more nutrients and demands more water. (Jim) There’s more cost involved with corn upfront. (Ignacio) When farmers are looking at the seed costs and they are looking at the fertilizer costs and they are looking to some other costs, corn tends to be an expensive crop. (Jim) So it better be yielding a lot more. It’s a good crop, but not maybe for everybody. (Ignacio) Not for everybody, so the main point is to emphasize in a high yielding situation, when we are looking at more than150 bushels, farmers they’re probably looking at corn as a very good option. When you are looking at below those numbers, 120 or below, sorghum tends to be one of the best options. (Jim) It’s not that sorghum can’t produce 150 or 180, but you’re probably, if you’re doing 150 or 180 in sorghum, you’re probably a little higher than that in corn, right? (Ignacio) In corn, and you make an excellent point. We are looking at sometimes yield potential in sorghum can be 200, 250 bushels. So it’s a good point that you bring. It’s not that we cannot produce that. We know that at those yield levels we know that corn can be more productive. (Jim) Right, okay. We’ve got to take a break. Hang on here. Folks, stay with us. We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors.

(Jim) Welcome back to That’s My Farm. I’m Jim Shroyer. Ignacio, in the last section here, let’s talk about some things that can go wrong. I have a couple of things in mind, like compaction. So take it from there. (Ignacio) Well one of the many issues, and sometimes we emphasize this so much on corn about uniformity. And then we don’t really tend to think more about sorghum. And sorghum uniformity is also a big factor. When we are thinking about, I really want to get in my field the maximum yield potential. If we are not starting from a good point we’ll never be getting there. We always say any time that you are planting your seed you are almost taking 80% of your decisions. And then you’re planting there specifically and your seed conditions in the soil at that moment will define the yields. Compaction basically it proves a lack of uniformity and it proves declination of a number of plants. Roots are really poorly developed and the consequences of that, you’ll probably see some consequences. Immediate consequences there may be some plants that are falling, some plants that don’t have a good root system. They have nutrient deficiencies because they are not… (Jim) Drought stress? (Ignacio) Drought stress. And there might be some consequences that you will get to see more at the end of the season. (Jim) I’m thinking of a couple of stalk rot issues. (Ignacio) Stalk rot issues and so many diseases affecting at the end of the season. And some days people tend to think that it’s only connected to the seed pressure, but it’s a combination of things. When we are getting to the end of the season the plant is remobilizing. It’s removing carbon and its removing biomass from leaves and stems. And those stems, from flowering they start to shrink until the end of the season. So that’s a problem. Those plants they tend to be stressed. If you add poor root architecture from planting conditions that were really bad, and if you add some disease pressure combining with the weather conditions, perfect for seeds to proliferate. (Jim) You’ve got a lot of sorghum. (Ignacio) You have a perfect storm there. Last year we have seen a lot of those combinations. We have farmer calls; we have visits with farmers, asking us why specific areas of the field were affected. (Jim) It could be a little more droughty, or it was a little wet when you planted in that area, and that’s the compaction. (Ignacio) And then we go back to the idea and make sure when you are planting put them in good seed conditions, and again the same concept. If you need to wait one week, we are not losing on sorghum, changing planting date too much. Moving one, two weeks, we are still fine. Make sure that we put the seed into the best soil condition, temperature and moisture wise. (Jim) And the other issue to, you hit a button there for me, is that again, north-central and north-west, if you go too late, now you’re running into some maturity issues and dry down issues like we’ve seen in the last couple of years. Dry down’s an issue. (Ignacio) Yes, and then in north central and northwest, one of our many issues up there are the length of the season. So if we go too late we don’t have enough time to finish the crop. And then we have some freeze events impacting and interrupting our grain filling. (Jim) Lighter test weight. (Ignacio) Lighter test weight, small grains. The yields are really impacted because we cannot really finish the crop. (Jim) Compaction as far as I’m concerned, compaction’s one of the big issues that we have. (Ignacio) For me, compaction and the lack of uniformity for my crop at the beginning is for me a number one problem. (Jim) Ignacio always good talking to you. Thanks for talking to us about sorghum. (Ignacio) Thank you very much. (Jim) Folks, thanks for being with us and don’t forget, next time about this time on Friday, we’ll have another issue of That’s My Farm. See you then.

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