Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Grain Sorghum Harvest

Grain sorghum stubble after combining
I've been relatively busy for the last month or so (or at least what passes for busy for me), which is why I haven't written much for awhile, although I've been thinking about a few things and pondering much so that might change.  

A few weeks ago, the grain sorghum planted in late-April was harvested and it was an awful disappointing harvest with yields even lower than I thought they would be.   One of the few bright spots in this year's attempt was that I'm pretty sure I know what caused the yields to be so much lower than expected, so now I think I know better what to do in the future whenever I'm trying to grow grain sorghum.

The main problem with this field was all the rain and cooler weather we had in May, which caused the grain sorghum to grow too slow after it first emerged, probably led to losing some of the nitrogen applied, and possibly also meant that the pre-emergent herbicide I used wasn't as effective at controlling volunteer sorghum-sudangrass.  I also shouldn't have let the sorghum-sudangrass that was planted last summer go the seed, if I had grazed or clipped it in late-summer when it started to reach maturity I don't think I would have had such a volunteer sorghum-sudangrass weed problem to deal with when the herbicide didn't control it completely. 

Despite those problems, test weights were pretty high (60 lb. per bushel) and the moisture levels were under the magical 14% number needed before the elevator will take a load of grain sorghum (until you've had to deal with a rejected truckload of wetter than you expected grain sorghum it's hard to understand how much of a relief being under that 14% number actually is).  Even though high test weights and optimum moisture levels mean there's no dockage when it comes time to sell, this field still didn't break even (in other words, more cash flowed out than flowed in), unless you include the value of the stubble.  If I was short on hay, I could easily bale enough hay from the stubble or get enough winter grazing to "make some money" off of this field. 

Hopefully, we'll get some rain sometime this month, I'll be drilling some wheat into this stubble, and  my wheat harvest will make up for the disappointing grain sorghum harvest.  Or, maybe a disappointing wheat harvest, drought, and low prices will be the final straw, and I'll start turning cropland into perennial pasture (I warned you that I've been thinking hard about a few things).


  1. "Or, maybe a disappointing wheat harvest, drought, and low prices will be the final straw, and I'll start turning cropland into perennial pasture (I warned you that I've been thinking hard about a few things)."

    Pasture has its own difficulties, of course, and drought etc. are hard on stockmen as well, as you of course know, but I've often thought that those depending on a pasture rather than a crop have it a bit easier.

    1. There's almost nothing worse than having a herd of cattle and running out of grass and hay in the middle of a drought, but at least with pasture I've never had to worry about a freeze in April, or too much rain, or no rain for weeks after planting, or a hail storm, or how much fertilizer I can afford.

      With pasture I can sort of manage around the weather by buying hay or feed, or moving or selling cattle, but with cropland it seems like I'm more at the mercy of the weather.

      Of course, it's also been pretty dry lately, which always makes me start thinking pretty hard about almost everything.

    2. After a rough week at my office job I'm finding I'm thinking about all things agricultural as well, and all things, but probably not from the same direction.

    3. I've just been thinking along the lines of whether I should be growing wheat or not, if I should just grow more grass and get more cattle, or if growing something like corn might fit better with my crop rotation ideas.

      I might be wrong but the type of thinking you describe sounds a little more life changing.

    4. Oh, just grousing.

      For the same reasons I noted here on my blog, I don't think that a part timer stockman like me can really go full time anymore. And I think it's pretty much impossible for somebody with no agricultural connection to get in at all, unless they are really wealthy. It's one of the big changes in our country over time. It's interesting how ingrained the idea that a person can go become a farmer is, and it still shows up on television as a theme, but it's well beyond the abilities of most people today.

  2. We've been bringing in the corn up here so I'm late to your post. With as much corn as we have to haul in, it has been a dandy fall. It is wearing everyone to the bone since there hasn't been any rain delays to rest up like there normally are. Of course, I fear there will be hell to pay in the spring if we have a drier than normal winter due to El Nino.

    Doesn't the elevator just dock the price of sorghum if it is too wet and still take it? I seem to recall back in my youth when my father used to raise wheat that he would always joke that we might end up writing a check to the elevator to take the wheat due to it being light and wet. I may just be imagining the wet part though as it has been 30 years since I took my last load of wheat to a grain elevator.

    1. You can sell wheat and corn that's a little wet and it will just get docked for the extra moisture, but sorghum needs to be not much more than about 14% moisture before the elevator will take it.

      The way I understand it, it's difficult to push enough air fast enough through sorghum to drop the moisture low enough before it will start to mold (something about the size and shape of the grain). And one little pocket of higher moisture grain can start to mold and then spread throughout the rest of the stored grain.

      One year, we had a little bit of double crop sorghum that just wouldn't get dry enough to harvest until about late-November. One truckload was about 14.5%, and they went ahead and took it with the understanding that everything else had to be under 14%. There was a big snowstorm in the weather forecast in a few days, but since there was only about a partial truckload's worth to cut, we waited a couple of days and then decided to just combine the rest of the field because it wasn't going to get any drier anytime soon with all that snow coming.

      At the elevator it was even wetter than the last load and they rejected it (like they said they would). It took about three or four weeks of parking the truck where the bed could catch some sun, and shoveling the grain back and forth a little to get the moisture to drop below 14%. Almost every day, I'd climb into the back of the truck, dig down towards the bottom to get a sample, test the moisture with my little grain moisture tester, then do a little shoveling so it might be a little drier the next day. It was a happy day when it finally tested lower than 14% moisture.

      That experience made me wish I'd grown something like corn instead of sorghum.