New varieties, an increased loan rate and continuing studies that show grain sorghum to be an excellent rotation with cotton and other crops could promote increased acreage in the Southwest.

“Our No. 1 priority has been getting the loan rate up,” says Danny Krienke, a Perryton, Texas, farmer and National Grain Sorghum Producers board member. “The bill the House passed includes a loan rate equal to corn. So does one of the proposals in the Senate.

“We've worked hard to convince legislators that there should be no difference.”

Krienke says research shows grain sorghum should be at least equal to corn for livestock nutrition. “In some areas of Texas, near Mexican markets, grain sorghum usually brings prices equal to or greater than corn.”

He says a loan rate equal to corn would attract more acreage.

“A lot of farmers grow corn instead of sorghum because of the price differential,” he says. “Many would prefer to grow sorghum, and getting the loan up could have a huge impact on production in the Southwest.”

Krienke says the PROFIT program, initiated two years ago to encourage sorghum in crop rotations, has conducted research that shows a significant yield increase in cotton following grain sorghum.

“The loan deficiency payment and other compensation for cotton forces many to stay with a cotton monoculture,” Krienke says. If we can get that loan up, we expect to see more grain sorghum in cotton rotations.”

He says with a better return for sorghum, farmers will benefit from increased yield potential from cotton without losing money on the rotation. Studies also show increased profit potential from a grain sorghum, wheat and fallow rotation for dryland production.

Farmers in grain deficit areas of the Southwest could do even better. In some heavy livestock production counties, for instance, corn benefits from a zero basis and may command a $2.20 loan rate.

“If we follow the same pattern with grain sorghum, we could expect close to $4 per hundredweight. If we can average 50 bushels per acre, we can gross about $200 per acre. That could be a big impact on the bottom line for dryland farmers.”

Krienke farms in Ochiltree County, usually among the top five wheat producing counties in Texas and among the top for soybeans.

“I'm not certain where we rank with grain sorghum, but we plant a lot in this area. We have productive land, deep soils and usually adequate average rainfall.”

Krienke says wheat farmers are a bit nervous about potential for Karnal bunt infestation. The disease has not shown up anywhere near the High Plains, but if it does producers have grain sorghum as an option. Further south, where summer rainfall may not be as consistent, grain sorghum may not be as good a fit, he says.

New varieties and new uses for sorghum also promises to help farmers improve profit potential. Krienke says a new Asgrow variety, Eclipse, which is a white food grade sorghum, offers potential for premium prices.

“We've had a few public varieties but we're beginning to see white grain sorghum hybrids that yield equal to the yellows and reds we're used to planting.”

White sorghum, he says, produces good flour with a bland flavor that will mix easily with other flours or other ingredients. “We're in a chicken and egg situation with white sorghum,” he says. “We need demand and supply to come together at the same time.”

He says NGSP initiatives to promote a number of white grain sorghum products, in conjunction with development of varieties with better yield potential, will help close the supply/demand gap.

“Eclipse is a good first step and we expect to see other varieties coming out of Asgrow and other seed companies,” he says.

rsmith@primediabusiness.com