“Murphy-Brown is planning to hold grower meetings in the next couple of months to solicit interest. With enough grower commitment, we can justify handling sorghum separately at the mills and changing milling practices to get the most out of the sorghum we purchase.

This is great news to Tandy Ogburn of Willow Springs. He was looking for a crop that would allow for herbicide rotation, fit well with small grains and soybeans, reduce soybean cyst nematode populations, improve soil structure on his less productive soils and resist deer damage.

Although these objectives seem daunting, he has been able to meet them by using grain sorghum in his rotation. Another advantage is that he has not had to purchase any specialized equipment. He sees this as a plus for any grower who wants to try the crop.

“I wanted a viable crop,” Ogburn said. “Sorghum can sit dormant 45 to 60 days during a drought. If rain comes in time, it still has the potential to make a crop. It’s almost bulletproof.”

Grain sorghum has exceeded Ogburn’s expectations. Despite planting late or receiving sporadic rain, he has been able to harvest a crop. At first, yields were somewhat erratic, but after consulting with Nicholson to get the fertilization worked out, he was able to reliably attain his target of 70 to 80 bushels per acre.

“With sorghum, I don’t have the yield potential of corn,” Ogburn said, “but I also don’t have to make as large a per-acre investment either. I get the same rotational benefits as with corn, and I can pretty much use the same equipment I was already using for soybeans.”

For some growers, sorghum may require a few minor investments, such as no-till equipment or new plates for planters to accommodate smaller seed.

“I’ve gone 100 percent no-till since I switched to sorghum,” Ogburn said. “Leaving the residue on the soil enhances moisture-holding capacity and will aid in building soil structure. As my soils improve, I hope my yields do, too. As added benefits, I can chemically control tough weeds like Palmer amaranth and marestail, and the rotation suppresses the nematode populations that harm soybeans.”

This year Ogburn confidently increased his acreage from 250 to 400 acres. His concerns now revolve around market stability and selling price of grain. He wonders what will happen in a “good” year when corn yields are high. He’s afraid no one will buy sorghum if corn is plentiful.

"I’m not sure what will happen in a ‘normal’ year,” Ogburn said. “We haven’t had one yet. As long as there’s dry weather, farmers will be interested in growing grain sorghum, but the situation is still premature. It’s got to be profitable. Right now growers can only sell it for 85 to 88 percent of the value of corn, yet it has the same feed value as corn. If the animal industry will support it equitably though, then grain sorghum production should take off here.”

Gaddy, the Murphy-Brown agronomist, believes grain sorghum has a future in North Carolina.

“Sorghum seems to be a good fit on marginal land,” he said. “It works well in rotation. It gives farmers a way to manage pigweed. It has other benefits, too. Since it is not as sensitive to manganese as soybeans are, it would be a better receiver crop on company farms where effluent tends to raise soil pH and lead to manganese problems. There are some challenges, but I think we can handle them.”

Growers who would like to attend one of Murphy-Brown’s upcoming informational meetings should contact Josh Gaddy at 910-293-5338 or 919-385-6184 (mobile).

NCDA&CS regional agronomists provide advice on production issues, such as sampling and fertilization. For contact information on the agronomist for your area, go to http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/rahome.htm.