Monday, April 27, 2015

Planting Grain Sorghum - 2015

So much crop residue that it's hard to see where the row marker ran
Row cleaners seemed to be doing their job even through thick crop residue

Believe it or not, that's the field after planting

It's raining today ( a nice, slow, soaking rain), and uncharacteristically for me, I was able to get my grain sorghum planted yesterday at just about the perfect time for those rains to get it up and growing.

This is about the sixth or seventh time I've planted grain sorghum and I still haven't figured out all the ins and outs of reliably growing a decent yielding crop (although two or three years of drought made it difficult and/or impossible), but I think I might finally be getting pretty close with this year's attempt.  Since there isn't that much grain sorghum being grown compared to the amount of corn, soybeans, and wheat sometimes it can be hard to find good reliable information about how to grow grain sorghum and there's even less info about no-tilling grain sorghum. It also doesn't help that every part of the country seems to have different ways of growing grain sorghum, and the way they grow grain sorghum in Texas isn't going to work in Nebraska at all. 

With all that in mind, I thought I'd share what little I know about no-tilling grain sorghum in Oklahoma just in case there's someone out there that is looking for that specific sort of information (I can almost guarantee that you're going to have to do something slightly different if you're from somewhere else). 

From my experience, you need to start with a clean, weed-free seedbed, since it can be hard to control most weeds once the sorghum is up and growing.  Most of my weed problems are crabgrass (I like growing crabgrass for hay, but hate it in my sorghum fields) and marestail.  Crabgrass is usually controlled with a pre-emergent herbicide in both no-till and tilled fields.  Marestail is usually easily controlled with tillage, but can be a real problem in no-till.  

With the crop residue from the sorghum-sudangrass I had the cows grazing this winter along with the right herbicide application, I'm pretty confident that I won't have as much of a weed problem this summer as I've had in some years.  

Once the weeds are controlled, it's important to plant at the right time with the correct seeding rate.  Most of that information can be found on an OSU blog about soil fertility management that I recently found, but  basically for my area of Oklahoma grain sorghum needs to be planted either between April 15 and May 1 or between  June 1 and July 1.  

This year I upped my planting rate to around 68,000 seeds per acre (approx. 5 lb. per acre) so that I'll get a final plant population of somewhere around 55,000.  Hopefully with a higher plant population I'll get less tillering so I'll be able to get the crop to dry down quicker this fall. 

I also increased my fertilizer rates to try to get some higher grain yields.  In the past, I would have been satisfied with relatively moderate yields, but I've decided to see if it's possible to eventually reach the point where I can consistently get some of the higher yields (120-150 bu./acre) that are theoretically possible with grain sorghum.  As a bonus, with higher fertilizer rates, I should also see more forage growth so that I can winter more cattle on the stubble.  

Planting depth is also important with grain sorghum, planting too deep can greatly reduce your final plant population.  In the past, I've tried planting as deep as 1.5" with the thought that I needed to plant into moisture, but that was a mistake.  Now I know that grain sorghum shouldn't be planted any deeper than 1" deep and it can be planted as shallow as 1/2" deep with good results.  This year I ended up planting it between 3/4" and 1"deep.

That's about all I know about growing grain sorghum and this fall I'll know more about if any of the changes I made this year actually worked, so stay tuned for that update.


  1. I love seeing all that crop residue on top of the field. I wish I had a similar looking garden to plant in.

    1. Getting the crop residue wouldn't be as difficult a task as figuring out how to plant through it on a garden scale. With a bag of birdseed, a tiller, either some fertilizer or some compost, maybe some biochar, and a tiller you could easily get that much residue. If you wanted to plant through that residue without a lot of tillage, you'd need some sort of no-till planter.

      My ideal garden would be located where I could easily maneuver my little John Deere tractor around it, I'd find a one row planter so I could no-till whatever I wanted to plant, and it would be big enough that I could use a drill to plant my cover crops. I've thought about building another garden along the edge of a wheat field so that I could get close to that ideal garden, but haven't gotten any closer than thinking about it.