It is no secret that Kansas, especially western Kansas, is a water-challenged environment.
That is an advantage for grain sorghum, according to Justin Weinheimer, crop improvement program director with the sorghum checkoff, which has made a concerted effort to rekindle interest in sorghum among growers.
Speaking to farmers gathered for an informational seminar on sorghum Friday morning (July 12) at the 3iShow in Dodge City, Weinheimer said water-friendly sorghum will produce profitably on about 7.7 inches of irrigation water during a growing season. Comparable corn production requires closer to 18 inches of water.
"As the water table of the Ogalalla falls, there will be fewer and fewer wells that can support corn irrigation," he said. "Those same wells can support sorghum with no problem."
He said the 7.7-inch requirement has been validated not just in test or demonstration plots, but on more than 5,000 acres of farmland over a six-year period by Texas growers. Yields on those acres was about 6,500 pound per acre – about 125 to 130 bushels.
"Timing is critical," he said. "You need water in early development when the plant potential is being determined. You need it again at about boot stage to insure that you get good grain heads. Other than those two critical times, it is extremely drought tolerant."
The sorghum industry is working at the national level to try to resolve the issues with crop insurance that discourage growers from switching from corn to sorghum, he said.
Weinheimer was joined for a panel question and answer session by K-State agronomist John Holman, K-State plant pathologist Phil Stallman and Conestoga Energy/Diamond Ethanol representative Matt Durler.
Durler said that the ethanol plant at Liberal buys grain sorghum directly from farmers for about 10 cents a bushel over the posted board rate. He said the plants also work with co-ops to make sure that they have adequate supplies for year-round production.