Considerations for Planting Grain Sorghum in a Distressed Market

For 2019 planting considerations, commodity market volatility can weigh heavily on a customer’s decision-making process. The sorghum market has had its share of ups and downs in 2018.

This spring, sorghum trading to China (U.S. number one market) stopped after their announcement of a “178.6 percent anti-dumping deposit.”1 After much political discussion, later in May, an article from Farm Policy News stated that, “China lifts sorghum tariffs, agrees to purchase more U.S. goods; U.S. suspends tariff implementation.”2 This was a positive message to sorghum producers. Another positive came when the USDA announced trade relief funds for farmers.3

Bottom line, there are several factors that impact and drive crop commodity prices that growers can’t control. What can sorghum growers control? Growers have 100 percent control over product selection and management. Market factors do not change the fact that sorghum (Figure 1) is a sound cropping choice in drought-stressed/dryland fields, replants in corn fields where inputs limit the use of soybean, or delayed springs where corn may no longer be a consideration. Regardless of the “why” sorghum is being planted, decisions to maximize sorghum yield potential and return on investment are musts.


  • Product Selection
    • Select products that are midseason to full season for your area to maximize performance potential.
    • Sorghum products should be selected with plant characteristics suited to your farming operation and needs, i.e., stalk strength, soil type, stress tolerance, and disease and insect pest tolerance.
  • Planting Guidelines
    • Planting rates should range from 75,000 to 100,000 seeds per acre for irrigated and higher-rainfall areas. In low-rainfall dryland areas, seeding rates may be as low as 30,000 seeds per acre.
    • Seeds should be planted into firm seedbeds when soil temperatures are greater than 65° F.
    • Planting depth can range from 0.75 to 1.5 inches depending on soil types. Heavier clays should be planted closer to 0.75 inches while sandier soil types can be planted up to 1.5 inches depending on moisture availability.
    • Planter adjustments are a must to help ensure optimal plant stand establishment and performance.
  • Fertility, Pest and Weed Management
    • Start with soil sampling. General fertility guidelines recommend 1.0 to 1.2 pounds of nitrogen per targeted bushel of yield goal. Sorghum is sensitive to fertilizer burn so manage accordingly.
    • Though limited herbicide options are available when compared to corn, it is important to follow sound weed control practices and consider burndown. There are pre- and post-options available to limit potential weed impact on yields. Seed should be treated with a safener like Concep® III to utilize pre-emergence products like Warrant® Herbicide. Read and follow all herbicide label recommendations.
      • Best insect and disease management starts with seed selection. Scout fields to identify if additional pest control options might be required.
  • Cropping decisions can be a challenge when we are in a distressed market. As with the annual seasonal challenges we face from Mother Nature, our best line of defense continues to be sound management practices focused on maximizing the return on the acres we plant.


Figure 1. Grain sorghum is a consideration for soils prone to drought, replant situations and delayed plantings.

Crist, D. 2018. Defending U.S. sorghum from trade retaliations. Sorghum Grower, Summer 2018. National Sorghum Producers.

2 Good, K. 2018. China lifts sorghum tariffs, agrees to purchase more U.S. goods; U.S. suspends tariff implementation. Farm Policy News. University of Illinois.

 3 USDA announces trade relief funds for farmers. 2018. Press Release. National Sorghum Producers. August 27, 2018. Web sources verified 11/9/18.

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