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Feed is short in the West

Drought causes feed shortages

Drought causes feed shortages. Growers turn to sorghum.

Drought has forced livestock producers in the Western United States to use up a majority of their hay. Livestock producers often count on hay being available in other parts of the country to fill in if forage supplies run short. It will be hard at this stage of the game for one region to help the other with forage deficits and high hay prices in many regions.

Fortunately, there are lots of options for producing quality forage quickly. Summer annual sorghums are the best options for producing high yields of good quality forage during summer months. Sorghum species are more drought-tolerant than most other forage options and can be planted well into July. If you need forages right away, sorghum x sudangrass or sudangrass can be grazed within weeks of planting. Many growers harvest the first cutting as hay or baleage once the sorghum is about 36 inches tall, and take another cutting, and/or graze the regrowth later in the summer. Summer annual sorghums are extremely versatile and with the right conditions can produce 6-7 tons of forage per acre.

Selecting the right hybrid is very important when planting sorghum species. Never buy cheap seed. Hybrid forage sorghums seed are made by planting a female that is male sterile and a male that provides the pollen (think cows and bulls). Most cheap sorghum x sudangrass hybrids have public parents, which means they are the same genetics that were released by university breeding programs in the 1950s and 1960s. That alone should tell you where I’m going with this. You’re essentially taking your 21st century beef or dairy genetics and feeding it 1950s quality hay. I’ll let that roll around in the back of your mind a while. A two-barrel carburetor on your 2022 Corvette comes to mind as a good analogy.

There are new genetics on the market for just a few dollars more per unit. Take SP4105 BMR for example, Sorghum Partners released this hybrid in 2015 after several years of breeding to improve its yields and quality. Sordan 79 was released in 1990 and will out yield a cheap, 1950s sorghum x sudangrass by over two ton per acre (Figure 1). If you do the “in between math” or look at the costs and the value of the hay, you can see how much money you lose when you buy cheap seed. Sordan 79 will cost $8.50 per acre more to plant, but will yield two more tons in hay. If the hay is worth more than $4.25 per ton you are even. We all know that hay is always worth more than that, especially this year. In fact, if we put hay prices at $100 per ton you end up making $144 per acre more by spending $8.50 more. That is almost 17 times return on investment. This is shaping up to be the year to utilize the investment of a high quality summer annual sorghum!

Feed is short in the West