Finding a crop that will produce in dry conditions on some of the weaker soils in his area has been a lifelong challenge, he says.

Grain sorghum is a crop his son is interested in from a soil nutrient standpoint. He’s making most of the decisions on the farm now, and I got him interested in looking at grain sorghum, the South Carolina grower says.

In a different part of South Carolina, Pamplico grower and agri-business owner Tom Kemp says he’s looking at grain sorghum for a different reason.

“We have a major problem with deer, and deer and soybeans in some of our fields just don’t work. He points to a small field bordered by heavy woods and notes, “I’ve planted beans in that field several times, and I’m yet to harvest one bean — that’s just not good for business,” he adds.

“Our thinking, he says, is that even if we can only harvest 40-50 bushels per acre of grain sorghum, that’s a better option than planting soybeans and risking getting nothing from that field.”

Kemp says he will plant the field to grain sorghum, then follow it with wheat. If that works on a small scale, we may look at planting it on more land, he says.

For a variety of reasons, interest in grain sorghum has been high among farmers in the Carolinas. Hull says growers in North Carolina (by early April) have purchased enough seed to plant 75,000-80,000 acres of grain sorghum. Realistically, he says, that will more likely equate to being 40,000 to 50,000 acres that are actually planted.

“Most of the growers I have visited are planning on planting a couple hundred acres, and only a few will plant as much as 500 acres in 2012. That’s really an ideal situation for us, because it gives growers a chance to see what the crop will do and how it will fit in under their production and marketing systems,” Hull says.

There is a lot of marginal land in the Carolinas and Virginia that is planted to corn, cotton and other crops. Increased acres of grain crops planted on marginal land, Hull says, is a primary reason average yields of grain crops in most Southeastern states aren’t comparable to yields achieved on better soils in the Midwest. Some of that marginal land would be much better suited to grow grain sorghum, he says.

“Murphy-Brown’s top goal in its effort to increase grain production in the Carolinas and Virginia is to increase the total amount of grain produced on every acre of farmland in our draw area. It’s not our goal to push acres to any specific crop,” Hull says.

Corn provides the best return for farmers on the land that consistently achieves good yields. If a grower’s land produces a profitable corn crop year after year, nothing we have found as an alternative grain crop will match the return corn provides per acre. However, the trend line for corn yield per acre in the Carolinas and Virginia has been on the decline, Hull adds.

Despite a gradual decline in corn yields across the Upper Southeast, the most consistent crop grown under irrigation is corn. Hull says a typical corn yield in the counties in south-central North Carolina and north-central-South Carolina is about 100 bushels per acre. Similar soil with irrigation consistently produces 200 bushels per acre, he adds.

The continued high price for corn is a benefit to growers trying grain sorghum for the first time.

Last year Murhphy-Brown bought grain sorghum at 88 percent of corn for program participants and 85 percent for growers who did not sign up for the company’s program.