Southern Plains Perspective: Taking a closer look at Grain Sorghum

Have you ever thought much about milo (grain sorghum)?

I know that seems like a funny thing to ask, but as I was surfing through the internet this week looking for good blog ideas, I came across several articles talking about grain sorghum.  

That’s not all that surprising, considering that I am researching climate change, drought-tolerant crops, irrigation, and sustainability.  Anyone who has been involved in production agriculture in the Southern Plains knows full well that milo is an extremely drought-tolerant crop.  According to the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, grain sorghum requires 30% less water than other grain crops.  That’s a pretty big deal, especially if you are in an area that taps into the Ogallala Aquifer and you are interested in looking for ways to reduce the amount of water you irrigate with (something that is also on our minds after we shot out last week’s blog and podcast on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the Ogallala in Kansas).  But did you also know that studies by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Oklahoma State University show that grain sorghum can be an important food source for pollinators and other beneficial insects?

We already know the positive impact that a field of milo can have on attracting multiple species of wildlife, including pheasants, but who knew that it was so beneficial to bugs?   This same research shows that when your milo crop is infested with aphids, large amounts of honeydew are produced as waste, which in turn can serve as an alternative to nectar. (I guess if you have to have aphids there is at least some silver lining, right?)

Studies have also shown that by including sorghum in a rotation, you can show an 8.4% increase in corn yields compared to continuous corn.  Additionally, research in Goodwell, Oklahoma, showed that a corn-sorghum rotation yielded similarly to a corn-soybean rotation, with both yielding nearly 20% more than a continuous corn rotation.  Research by Kansas State University has also shown that over a 12-year period, intensifying cropping systems with sorghum in rotation with cover crops or double-cropping increases soil organic carbon near the surface, potentially leading to such benefits as better soil structure, aggregate size, and water infiltration. It’s also not unusual for sorghum roots to reach depths of over five feet, giving the play the ability to use deep soil moisture and nutrients while also sequestering carbon deep into the soil profile.

All of this is to say that grain sorghum is a pretty cool crop when it comes to drought tolerance and climate adaptation.

Later this month we plan on having Adam York, Sustainability Director with the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, as a guest on our podcast to talk about all this and the new initiative his group has just kicked off in the region as part of the Partnership For Climate Smart Commodities effort at USDA.  Be on the lookout for this episode.

You never know what you will find when you look for blog ideas…

To view this post at the Southern Plains Perpective, click here.

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