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Four Tips for Sorghum Planting Success

Bill Spiegel 04/24/2014 @ 10:27am I grew up in north-central Kansas, and am the Fourth Generation to maintain and manage our farm on which we grow wheat, soybeans and grain sorghum. I'm a 1993 graduate of Kansas State University in ag communications. I joined the Successful Farming/Agriculture.com team in 2014.

Grain sorghum planting is in full-swing throughout the Central Plains, and as it moves northward, there are some practices successful sorghum growers use to get the crop off to a good start. 

1. Plant the right hybrid. 

Choose the hybrids that best fits your geography and environment, advises Scott Staggenborg, director of technical services for the sorghum genetics firm Chromatin. While yield is the top goal, be cognizant that the hybrid you selected last fall may not be the best fit for this spring’s climactic conditions. You may have your hybrids picked out already, but in most cases, “it isn’t sold until it is in the ground,” Staggenborg says.  

Crop maturity lessens the farther north you go, so producers in northern Nebraska and South Dakota will need earlier-maturing hybrids, particularly if planting runs later. Also, keep in mind the precipitation outlook. “Farmers in west Texas, for example, plant medium to medium-early hybrids because when it gets dry in the summer, it is better to have the crop finished earlier,” Staggenborg says. 

Seed supplies are good, so producers still have time to select hybrids. Use regional, multiple-year yield data as a guide for hybrids that fit in your area. Another trait producers should look at is the ability of a hybrid to withstand lodging.  A stay-green or standability performance factor is one indicator that the crop will not fall prior to harvest. 

Adding a seed treatment such as Cruiser to sorghum seed is a good idea, particularly when planting into no-till, he adds.

2. Use a pre-emerge herbicide

Curtis Thompson, weed management specialist at Kansas State University, says a pre-emerge herbicide program is a must in controlling herbicide-resistant weeds, problem broadleaves and – the bane of all sorghum growers – grassy weeds. 

“There are enough tools in a sorghum producer’s toolbox to do an effective job in weed control,” Thompson says. The first rule, he adds, is to not plant sorghum where shattercane or johnsongrass is a known problem. 

A pre- and post-emerge program using the Callisto mesotrione products - either Lexar or Lumax – may be expensive, but is effective at providing season-long control of many annual grasses and broadleaf weeds. Lawrence, Nebraska farmer John Dolnicek, says a split application combined with glyphosate a week to 10 days prior to planting, combined with a second application of the same prior to emergence, helps fields “start clean and stay clean.” 

For in-season control of broadleaves, Thompson says a post-emerge application of Huskie – a premix of pyrasulfotole and bromoxynil – can be made after the crop reaches the three-leaf stage and before it is 30-inches tall. Huskie needs to have a half-pound of atrazine added to the tankmix. However, do not apply to ground previously treated with Lumax or Lexar, Thompson warns. 

3. Use enough fertilizer.

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