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How to Manage Grain Sorghum for Optimal Yield

Advice on achieving higher grain sorghum yields

Many growers in the South find grain sorghum to be an ideal option in place of corn or as part of their rotation with other crops. It's relatively easy to manage, and its versatility makes it an attractive alternative. But despite its low maintenance, grain sorghum has a great potential for high yields.

For the most success, sorghum growers find that following a few standard practices early in the season can mean greater success and better yields at harvest.

Soil Health

Make sure the pH of your field reaches at least 6.0 for a healthy grain sorghum yield. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium make up the three most essential nutrients to a sorghum plant, so pay special attention when addressing these nutritional needs.

Potassium in particular performs two essential jobs for sorghum: It strengthens its stalk and regulates the stomata in its leaf tissue. According to the Grain Sorghum Production Guide for the Mid-South, good stalk strength can aid in reducing lodging losses at harvest and the regulation of stomata helps the plant fight moisture stress.

Hybrid Choice

Some factors to take into consideration when choosing a sorghum hybrid:

  1. Yielding ability - An important trait but not the most important if you have other more pressing issues, like problems with disease.
  2. Susceptibility to lodging
  3. Maturity date - Try a full season hybrid if planting early. If planting as a double crop after wheat, or planting late, make sure you choose an earlier-maturing variety.
  4. Head exsertion - This refers to distance from the grain's head to its uppermost leaf, and becomes a critical issue when the grain matures at harvest. You ideally need exsertion to be as great as possible so that the least amount of foliage gets picked up for drying.
  5. Head compactness - Hybrids come as compact, semi-compact, or open, and can impact the grain's susceptibility to insects and disease, as well as drying time in the field.
  6. Damage from birds, insects, and disease - Depending on the type of seed, they are more or less appealing to birds and insects, as well as more or less resistant to disease.

Planting Date

When you plant will affect your end yield as grain sorghum performs best in warmer temperatures. Experts recommend planting when the upper 2 inches of soil reach between 60 and 65 degrees and cooler temperatures are not expected again that season.

The greatest yields are the result of early-planted seeds, usually in the month of May. The timeliness gives the plants enough time to grow and bloom later in the summer, reducing the chance of head diseases.

Grain sorghum seeds emerge a little more slowly and less firmly than corn seeds. Therefore, the Grain Sorghum Production Guide for the Mid-South advises that sorghum should be planted shallow enough for easy emergence but deep enough to assure good contact with moist soil. In most situations, planting sorghum seeds 1 inch deep is ideal. For sandy soils, 2 inches deep might work better.

Make sure you don't let an opportunity to produce high yield grain sorghum pass you by. For more information on grain sorghum, consult your local Southern States Agronomy professional.

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