About 50,000 acres of grain sorghum were grown in North Carolina in 2012, says the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That is estimated to be more than a significant increase over 2011; about 10 times the number of sorghum acres produced in the state the year before.
The crop was introduced to many farmers this year when Murphy-Brown LLC, the livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., announced the company would purchase the crop, and scheduled a series of meetings across the state to promote it.
NCDA&CS says Murphy-Brown's promotion was directly responsible for about 20,000 acres being planted in the eastern part of the state.
Sorghum has some key advantages for farmers; NCDA&CS notes, since the crop is drought tolerant, offers flexible planting dates, allows flexible crop rotations and double cropping scenarios. The crop is also unattractive to pesky deer.
NCSU crop scientist Ron Heinger notes sorghum provides nematode control and offers good options for weed management, including resistant weeds. That makes it a good fit, both for the company and for growers looking for a new source of revenue.
"Murphy-Brown has made sorghum a cornerstone in their initiative to increase local feed grains," says Heiniger. "The company is importing corn from Argentina and Brazil this year to meet their demands. That is a lot of money and a lot to transport -- moving all their grain is costly to them so they want to keep their cost down. Sorghum, more wheat and increasing corn production are the cornerstones of their strategy to make themselves more independent of the Midwest and foreign sources of feed grains."
Corn can be problematic for growers in North and South Carolina, as well as in Virginia. There is a short window of opportunity to make a good corn crop and the crop must get rain during that window to do well. If that rain falls at the right time, growers can consider themselves fortunate.
"With corn, it is always going to be feast or famine," says Don Nicholson, regional agronomist with the NCDA&CS, "On light, sandy land, corn production isn't consistent and reliable. Unfortunately, growers still have to pay rent on fields whether they make a crop or not."
In addition to Murphy-Brown's promotion efforts, NCDA&CS notes the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service made money from its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) available to roughly 200 sorghum producers, with the goal of encouraging sorghum as a way to combat both pigweeds and nematodes. NCDA says this initiative helped encourage the planting of about 16,000 acres of the crop statewide this year.
In the December issue of Carolina-Virginia Farmer magazine our story "Make the sorghum play," is featured as the cover picture with full coverage on our page 6. In the story Ron Heiniger is interviewed and Wilson County row-crop farmers Tim Shelton and Thomas Pritcher are featured. They successfully grew sorghum for the first time in 2012.
The story is now also available online. Just go back to our opening home page (www.farmprogress.com) scroll down the page until you see Magazine Online and follow the links.