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Switch to milo benefited this producer

Sometimes you make farming decisions with your gut. Kerry Graves and his father, Gary, Greene County, made such a call this spring, and it appears to have been the right one.

Like much of Indiana, Greene County was wet this spring. “We decided to quit planting corn and switch to soybeans and milo the last week of May,” Graves says. “My dad actually made the call. It looks like he got this one right.”

Key Points

Farmer picks right year to switch his late-planted crops to milo.

Most milo goes to niche markets, but some is used in poultry feed.

Indiana acreage remains small compared to other crops.


Corn suffered not only from late planting, but also from extreme heat and dry weather during pollination. Soybeans were planted late. As harvest approached, Graves says his milo looked good — better than corn or soybeans. He planted 150 acres of it this year.

Milo withstands dry weather better than many other crops. Graves believes that’s why it may be his best crop this year.

Market the crop

Part of the secret to growing a niche crop is marketing. Graves sells to Graham Feed in Terre Haute. His milo becomes bird feed. Other places in southern Indiana buy it for pet food or to mix into chicken feed.

If you’re thinking it might be a supplement for high-priced corn, be careful. Around Sept. 1, Graves reported it was actually a few cents higher than corn.

Graves can forward-contract milo. Fortunately, he notes, he didn’t forward-price it this year. The price increased as other grain prices increased. It’s not the first time he has raised the crop. He typically reserves it for droughty ground.

Crop traits

Milo is actually a type of grain sorghum that tends to be more resistant to drought than some other variations. According to Purdue University sources, grain sorghum’s advantage in years like this one is that since the crop is self-pollinated, it’s more likely to produce a normal crop under very stressful conditions.

Corn is cross-pollinated. Problems occur with pollination when the temperature is extremely high; it’s hot during the entire pollination cycle; or it’s dry. All three occurred in many areas this year.

Yields are variable for milo. However, research trials in Wisconsin conducted years ago indicated that under very dry conditions, it could yield nearly as well, if not better, than corn.

The amount grown annually in Indiana is so small it’s not tracked by the Indiana Ag Statistics Service. However, it is reported during census years. In 2002, 9,950 acres were grown on 94 farms, with total production of 751,444 bushels. By 2007, acreage slipped to 8,938 on 78 farms, but production was up, at 811,912 bushels. The average yield increased from 75 bushels per acre in 2002 to 91 bushels per acre.

Based on 2007 statistics, by number of farms growing sorghum, the top five counties in Indiana were Gibson, Jasper, Posey, Knox and Vigo. It’s likely no accident that those counties either have considerable acreage of droughty soils, specialty markets, or both.

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Right crop, right year: This grain sorghum plot was used for research purposes at Dow AgroSciences research plots near Noblesville. A few Indiana farmers switched to sorghum due to late planting.

This article published in the October, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.