Continued high grain prices, environmental and climate concerns, need for a viable rotation for resistant weed management and anticipated use for ethanol will spur an acreage increase for grain sorghum in 2013 and beyond.

Acreage should increase from 6 million last year to 6.5 to 7 million nationally this year, says Sue Ann Claudon, with the Sorghum Checkoff program. Acreage increase is expected to continue into the future, she said during the annual No-till Oklahoma Conference in Norman, Okla.

Claudon said two years of drought in the Southwest is spurring acreage jumps in Texas and Oklahoma. And low rainfall during the winter of 2013 may hint at continued drought conditions.

“We also have strong demand,” she said, “and the lowest carryover ever for grain sorghum. Domestic and international demand is good.” She said increased interest and investment from industry also supports optimism for grain sorghum.

On the East Coast, farmers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are growing grain sorghum to support the poultry and swine industries. In the Mid-South, farmers are turning to grain sorghum as a reliable rotation crop to help break the cycle of herbicide resistant weeds that have been significant issues in cotton and soybean crops.

The Southwest is looking for more drought tolerance and are trying to capitalize on current high grain prices. Southwest farmers are also growing grain sorghum for the ethanol market. Weed resistance threatens Southwest growers as well.

In California, ethanol, dairy and beef are supporting grain sorghum acreage. “Beef and dairy are also good for forage sorghum demand,” Claudon said.

The ethanol market is a big mover. From 35 percent to 40 percent of U.S. sorghum production goes into ethanol. “That will increase. Grain sorghum has attained advanced biofuel status.”

Claudon said farmers may have trouble finding the hybrids they want this year, because of increased interest and two drought years that limited seed production.

“The most popular hybrids are gone,” she said. “Growers should book seed as soon as possible. The supply of forage sorghum is also really short.”

The Sorghum Checkoff also supports production research and will invest $5 million on targeted research efforts over the next five years. “We’re working together with public and private entities on crop improvement,” Claudon said.

Research targets include fertility; disease resistance; grain attributes such as protein, starch, and digestibility; germplasm development; herbicide tolerance; erect leaves; non-tillering and management traits.

USDA/ARS is working on drought, heat and cold tolerance at numerous locations.

“We also hired a chemical consultant to facilitate the relationship with the chemical industry.” Goals are to find new herbicides for grain sorghum. “We also want to look at older chemistry that may not be labeled for grain sorghum to see if it has a fit,” Claudon said.

Water, she added, will be a significant factor and a key for grain sorghum in the Southern Plains. “The Ogallala has been depleting and irrigated acreage will decrease; water availability will be an issue. Grain sorghum is a water sipping crop, so the opportunities are tremendous.”

Grain sorghum requires 20 inches of water to make 150 bushels of grain per acre, said Rick Kochenower, Research and Extension specialist at the Oklahoma Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Goodwell. “Some of the best hybrids have made 170 bushels on 10 inches of water and a good soil moisture profile.”

He said further research will try to determine the level of water availability where grain sorghum becomes a more economical option than corn.

rsmith@farmpress.com