“Sorghum itself is ideal because it is so drought-tolerant . . . it ‘waits’ on the rain,” he said. “I’d like to plant half my land in milo (grain sorghum) and half in soybeans and then rotate each year. The rotation provides good nematode control. Soybeans seem to yield better after grain sorghum.”

When the goal is to manage nematodes in soybeans, sorghum is a good choice for a number of reasons. As expected, host-specific nematodes such as soybean cyst cannot survive on sorghum.

More surprisingly, southern root-knot nematodes, which are widespread and have a very broad host range, do not thrive on sorghum either. When sorghum is grown, several common nematode species are suppressed.

A collaborative effort

The recent turn to grain sorghum in North Carolina has been the result of a perfect storm of circumstances.

Agronomists, Extension agents, U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel and commercial livestock producers brought their expertise to bear on a complex, multi-faceted problem involving drought, poor crop performance, pervasive herbicide-resistant weeds, loss of effective nematicides, and high transportation costs for imported animal-feed grain.

Through collaborative brainstorming, the idea of managing these problems by growing grain sorghum was born.

Support has come from both the private sector and government. Murphy-Brown solicited growers to produce grain sorghum in eastern counties. The company’s promotion was directly responsible for about 20,000 acres being planted in the eastern part of the state this year.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service made money from its Environmental Quality Incentives Programavailable to roughly 200 sorghum producers. The goal of this program was to encourage rotation of herbicide-resistant cotton and soybeans with sorghum as a way to manage pigweed and nematodes — a methodology that is compatible with no-till production practices.

The NRCS incentive helped foster the planting of about 16,000 acres statewide this year.

“Grain sorghum has more than proven its worth, especially in eastern North Carolina counties,” said Kent Messick, field services chief with the NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division. “It is reliable and, in rotation, enhances production of crops like peanuts, soybeans and tobacco.”

For advice on nutrient management of sorghum and how to incorporate it effectively into your cropping system, consult a NCDA&CS regional agronomist. Contact information is available online at www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/rahome.htm.