Farmers navigating the desert of poor commodity prices and high input costs may want to hitch a ride on the camel of crops —grain sorghum.
Sorghum, or milo, has been around for thousands of years and grows in dry conditions where other crops would perish.
Elmore County farmer Richard Edgar said he planted milo for a variety of reasons this year.
“In past years, corn prices have been better than sorghum, but this year it’s 50 cents above corn, so it was a little more attractive to plant,” said Edgar, Alabama Farmers Federation district 7 director. “Also, it was cold and wet when we needed to plant corn, so we planted sorghum as a kind of backup crop.”
Charles Mitchell of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said the idea of planting grain sorghum in feed-deficit Alabama isn’t new.
“Back in the ‘80s there was a big push to grow grain sorghum to feed livestock —mainly the poultry industry,” said Mitchell, agronomy and soils specialist with Extension. “The attractiveness of grain sorghum is it doesn’t require the water corn does. But, it does have insect problems and the sugarcane aphid.”
In addition to feeding on crops, sugarcane aphid coats sorghum leaves with honeydew, a black fungus, causing combines to clog by reducing movement of material through the machine.
A report from the Wall St. Daily found China is fueling the demand for grain sorghum. U.S. farmers are expected to produce 5.8 million tons in 2014-2015, with about 5 million tons bound for China.
Limestone County farmer Paul Looney said this is the first year he’s planted grain sorghum since the ‘80s, but he sees increased interest in the crop among north Alabama farmers.
“We planted 400 acres ourselves, and in my home county of Limestone we’ve seen more than we usually have,” said Looney, Federation district 2 director. “There’s not a whole lot of transition cost when planting sorghum. It seems like we can make a good yield.”
Extension Economist Max Runge said production cost of sorghum is less than corn, but farmers need to evaluate operations to make the best financial decision.
“According to our budgets, corn costs $450 an acre to produce and grain sorghum costs $300,” Runge said. “For being able to put sorghum in at two-thirds the cost of corn, it gives farmers an option to cut costs while still making money. Every farm is a little different, so it’s important to estimate your costs, time and labor spent growing the crop.”