In Nebraska, 200-bushel grain sorghum isn't out of reach, but it's rare to harvest whole fields of 200-bushel milo.
In October, sorghum grower Tom Hartman hit that milestone when he harvested one of his fields near Grand Island for the National Sorghum Producers yield contest.
"Most years, there are really only one or two reports of over 200-bushel sorghum in Nebraska. Most of the time they're averaging 180 to 185 bushels per acre throughout the field," says Dean Sombke, district sales manager at Sorghum Partners. "That field of Tom's averaged over 200, and that's a rarity."
This field, grown on 15-inch rows with a Sorghum Partners hybrid SP68M57, yielded 201.3 bushels per acre at 12.5% moisture. This was the first year the hybrid was commercially available.
"This is a new hybrid replacing our KS585, a medium-maturity hybrid that's been around a long time. What we're trying to do in every breeding aspect is get a healthier breeding plant that stands longer in adverse conditions — and obviously we want it to yield more per acre," says Sombke. "If you have a plant that yields well, but doesn't stand upright, it doesn't do any good."
Sombke notes this hybrid is also bred with the "Stay Green" trait to help it stand upright in adverse conditions.
"This hybrid also has a good yield potential; it's probably closer to 250 bushels per acre," he adds. "It's a medium-maturity that will yield closer to what a full-season hybrid will. Our short-season hybrids are now yielding what our medium season hybrids used to."
Hartman has grown sorghum off and on since the 1970s, but competed in the yield contest for the first time this year.
"We have historically planted sorghum throughout the years, but never this much," says Hartman. "It's either been 36-inch rows or 7.5-inch rows that we drilled. We thought maybe 7.5 inches was a little thick as far as airflow, and we thought we could get a little more yield out of 15s with fewer but bigger heads."
And according to Sombke, row spacing makes a big difference in sorghum.
"There's no question that 15-inch rows will do much better than 30s, but it's a challenge to get guys to do 15s," says Sombke, adding that this can potentially bring a 25% to 30% increase in yield. "You've got to capture all that sunlight, and on 30-inch rows, too much sunlight is getting through the canopy and going to waste, especially on a smaller plant like sorghum."
However, this field was planted with an air seeder on 15-inch rows. "It worked pretty well," says Hartman. "Just like any other crop, you have to have good seed-to-soil contact, and a good seed bed to plant it in. We don't have a drill, so we went with vertical tillage, and used the air seeder in spring."
Fertilize for top yields
Weed control is paramount in sorghum. This particular field had corn in it the previous year, and after Hartman vertical-tilled the stubble this spring, he applied a burndown application of glyphosate. After planting, he followed up with a post application of Huskie (pyrasulfotole and bromoxynil) to clean up remaining weeds in the field.
When it comes to sorghum, a big factor is treating it like a primary crop, and that means fertilizing it like a primary crop. "You have to treat it like corn. To really top out yield, you need nitrogen — usually a pound per bushel yield goal," says Hartman.
Hartman notes he applied 150 pounds of nitrogen in dry fertilizer before planting, and applied 35 pounds in liquid fertilizer through the pivot just before the boot stage. While the field is irrigated, Hartman used little irrigation — an inch early on, followed by 35/100 with fertigation.
"Tom treated it like a real crop and unfortunately that's not what most farmers do," says Sombke. "Most guys tend to skimp on sorghum, but those that don't are finding their getting a good bang for their buck."