Grain sorghum acreage is on the rise across the Upper Southeast, primarily due to the demand and good prices paid for it by Murphy-Brown, and in Virginia the combined efforts of research and industry appear to be paying off in increased interest and acreage in the crop this year.

Virginia Tech Researcher Maria Balota has been promoting the benefits of grain sorghum for the past few years.

Though many growers are interested in the crop now, in the early going, she says, many thought she was a little crazy for showing so much interest in grain sorghum.

Balota is coordinator for the Peanut Variety and Quality Evaluation program in Virginia. Her initial interest in grain sorghum grew from a desire to find more crop rotation options for the state’s peanut growers.

Balota says, “In 2009, we had a drought in the peanut producing areas of Virginia — not a terrible one as droughts go, but it was amazing to me how bad the drought affected corn production in our state. After seeing that happen, I felt we needed an alternative grass crop, other than corn, to grow in rotation with peanuts.”

 

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Many peanut growers in the Upper Southeast have added cotton to their peanut rotation, but long-term research indicates peanuts do better if planted behind corn.

In some areas of the V-C peanut belt dryland corn is a big risk because of the weather. This year, there was too much rain, but typically drought during the critical silking stages of corn can have a devastating effect on yield and quality.

The Virginia researcher says grain sorghum has worked well as a substitute for corn in a peanut rotation. It appears to produce some toxins that do a better job than corn of cleaning up nematodes in the soil, and in some areas that is a big plus, she says.

For Virginia growers, Balota says a major problem is getting the right variety to match soil and climatic conditions. Most of the currently available varieties were bred for arid or semi-arid conditions, and adapting these varieties to the hot and humid conditions in the Southeast is a challenge.