08 Dec Why you should be growing sorghum in 2022
A year ago we had a blog with a similar title and the initial comments were on the Chinese buying sorghum and creating a strong demand. That demand has not changed if you look at November 2022 sorghum bids.
The new topic of discussion is the price of crop inputs. We are seeing historical prices for fertilizer and crop protection products. Seed prices ticked up a bit, because they are less affected by the global transportation bottle necks like fertilizer and crop protection products.
Sorghum has several advantages when it comes to cost of production in 2022 and probably not the ones you might think. Many people call sorghum a “low input crop” but if you try to make it a low input crop you will get low output. You cannot save money on fertilizer by switching from corn to sorghum in a dryland field. Sorghum has the same fertilizer requirement per bushel of yield as corn and if you cut corners on fertilizer, you will cut your yields, regardless of the crop.
This does not mean that you cannot maximize yields and save some money on fertilizer by fine tuning your fertility program. Brent Bean with the United Sorghum Checkoff has several tips to reduce fertilizer costs while maintaining yield potential. These include soil sampling to make sure you are getting credit for the nutrients in the soil, banding P and in-season applications of N. He blog can be found at https://www.sorghumcheckoff.com/agronomy-insights/minimizing-fertilizer-costs/.
One of sorghum’s advantages is seed cost per acre, which lowers your risk. Higher input costs represent higher risk. We already established that sorghum and corn need fertilizer and the high fertilizer cost make an acre of each crop pretty scary. Sorghum seed costs do not add much to this high tab and essentially helps take some of the risk out of producing a crop. Growing sorghum also has a higher probability of returning on those other high-priced inputs if we experience a dry year on the High Plains. Yield stability in sorghum is real. Kansas State’s Farm Management budgets (www.agmanager.net) list total direct expenses for corn at $274.82 per acre, sorghum at $188.67, soybean at $163.18, and cotton at a staggering $521.49. In Southwest Kansas, total tirect txpenses for dryland crops are $259.45 per acre for corn, $222.18 for sorghum, $157.62 for soybean, and $467.62 for cotton. As you can see, sorghum is one of the lowest risk crops when you look at the amount of money you have to risk per acre. Soybean has the lowest input cost in both regions, but sorghum will have greater yield stability across years because of its drought tolerance, making it a clear choice for most scenarios in the Great Plains.
We normally do not talk much about sorghum having an advantage on an irrigated acre because corn yields are pretty hard to beat when you have adequate water. But how many fields do you have that have with adequate water? With energy prices going up, irrigated sorghum economics and the lower risk start to look attractive. Kansas State’s newest irrigation cost estimates are $3.93 per acre-inch. Their irrigated budgets for Southwest Kansas (www.agmanager.net) have corn irrigation at 16 acre-inches and sorghum at 12 acre-inches per growing season. Putting on less than the 12 inches they list for full irrigation can also produce excellent sorghum yields if the irrigations are applied at the correct times. A limited irrigation approach to sorghum can result in good yields while risking less money on irrigation costs.
If we use South Central Kansas as an example, we can quickly see how sorghum has an economic advantage over other crops. Take Kansas State University’s Ag Manager crop budget data (www.agmanager.info), we see that sorghum has advantages over the other crops in the area with over $100 per acre net returns (Figure 1).
As mentioned above, The primary advantage sorghum has over other crops besides the strong price is in seed costs. Based on our scenarios, sorghum has $50 lower seed cost per acre than corn and a staggering $70/acre difference compared with cotton. Many of other costs align with the other crops because field operations are similar and apart from soybeans, the herbicide and fertilizer costs are similar across crops.
If you are unsure of what sorghum hybrids to plant, Sorghum Partners SP 68M57 is widely adapted and has excellent yield potential in most environments from South Texas up through Nebraska. SP 43M80 is a tough drought tolerant medium-early hybrid with excellent SCA tolerance. SP 43M80 is suited for most dryland fields in the Central and Western Plains. For short season environments farther north, SP 31A15 and SP 25C10 are great hybrids to consider.
If you have difficult to control grass weeds, you should be using Double Team™ Sorghum in these fields. Sorghum Partners is offering five different hybrids that will have a fit somewhere on your acres. These hybrids include, SP 24C20 DT, SP 30A30 DT, SP 31C06 DT, SP 45A45 DT, and SP 58M85 DT. When paired with FirstAct™ herbicide, they will help you obtain cleaner fields and bigger yields.
Use our Crop ROI Calculator to estimate profitability and compare different crops to see why you should be growing sorghum in 2022!