In North Carolina, grain sorghum producers alone harvested an extra 60,000 acres (70,000 vs 10,000 in 2011) and produced more than four million bushels of potential livestock feed that wasn’t available in 2011. This year, grain sorghum acreage is expected to top 100,000 acres.   

A decade ago most farmers and agri-experts in the state could not have imagined that less than 100,000 acres of peanuts would be planted nor that more grain sorghum than peanuts would be planted in North Carolina, but that’s likely to happen this year.

Veteran North Carolina Department of Agriculture Agronomist Kent Messick says when the final tally on grain sorghum is completed yields will likely average around 70 bushels per acre.

“With an available market in Murphy-Brown willing to buy sorghum for 95 percent of the price of corn, and corn prices hovering around $8 per bushel, most growers are likely to plant more sorghum this year,” Messick says.

“We had some production issues last year, and we saw some fields with weeds and other issues that probably didn’t make much more than 40 bushels per acre. On the other hand we saw plenty of fields over 100 and even 120 bushels per acre,” Messick adds.

He contends one of the biggest jumps in grain sorghum acreage is likely to come from double-cropping it with wheat. Last year some of the best sorghum yields in the state came from fields planted behind wheat.

The other big increase will come from areas in which deer can literally destroy young soybean plants and routinely cause problems in most crops. With grain sorghum, deer tend to nibble on the outside rows, then leave it alone, Messick says.

A limiting factor on the number of grain sorghum acres this year will likely be seed availability.

Ongoing drought problems in the Southwest hurt sorghum seed in terms of both availability and quality last year, and it will likely be a problem this year as more and more growers in the Upper Southeast plant the crop.

Corn is the king of grains for the North Carolina livestock industry, but high prices for corn and even higher prices for transporting it from the Midwest to the state are making it economically difficult to compete for corn for livestock feed.

Grain sorghum helped provide extra grain last year, but so did the state’s corn growers. Last year the average yield of corn was up to 124 bushels per acre, helping push upward the 10-year average, which has hovered between 100-110 bushels per acre for most of the last decade.

Corn acreage in the state was up by 5 percent and production was up by 40 percent, to 95.9 million bushels on 820,000 acres last year.

How much of the extra grain will be used for livestock feed isn’t clear, but with ethanol production in the region virtually non-existent, chances are much of this year’s corn crop will go to feed the feed-challenged poultry and swine industries in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Many North Carolina farmers will do well with corn this year, says Carl Pless, Cabarrus County crops and livestock agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

“Corn was planted last year in places it hasn’t been planted in years, partly because farmers also got a good price for it,” he says.