Until a few years ago some West Texas farmers planted grain sorghum in rotation with cotton, assuming they’d lose a little money on the milo, or maybe break even every year or two, but would make up the difference with increased production from the next cotton crop.
The rationale for planting grain sorghum has changed.
“In late May we could have contracted grain sorghum for close to $6.50,” says J.D. Jones, who farms on his own and in partnership with his father, David, near Lubbock, Texas.
“We can make a little money at that price,” David says.
They’re relatively new to milo. “We haven’t grown a lot but we had some cotton hailed out last year and needed an alternate crop,” David says. “Milo fit like a glove.”
J.D. says they took one circle out of cotton and put it in milo. “It helps the next cotton crop,” he says.
“Planting cotton into grain sorghum stubble also helps,” David says. “If we get a rain on the organic matter left from grain sorghum, the soil will not blow.”
They plant some reduced tillage cotton and milo. “We have some no-till and some conventional,” David says. Together, they have more than 700 acres in subsurface drip irrigation and they like to plant no-till on those acres.
The Jones’ operation has about 15 percent of the acreage in milo this year. “The biggest advantage with milo is diversification,” J.D. says. “For the last two years grain sorghum has been a viable alternative, a good rotation crop with cotton.”
“It’s also a relief on some acreage to (get away from) high cottonseed prices,” David says. “And it’s convenient. We can come in and apply Roundup as a burndown in the spring, plant and add Milo Gard. That’s about it. It’s a clean crop to grow.”
“We need a lot less management to grow grain sorghum,” J.D. says. “And improved varieties have been a big advantage.” They plant Pioneer hybrids.
Moisture management is also easier. “We can do more with a 300-gallon irrigation well with milo than we can by spreading that water over cotton,” J.D. says.
“But the main thing is we can rotate without losing money. With grains sorghum at $2.30 a hundredweight, we lost money. At $6.50, and with a good yield, we can make a profit. That will keep us in the ball game,” David says. “With grain competitive with cotton, we have more opportunities to do something different.”
They made a good crop last year and produced an exceptional yield on a drip irrigation field that had been planted in cotton and hailed out.
They had few insect problems to complicate production. “We had to spray for head worms last year, but only once and on about half our acreage,” J.D. says.
They harvested much of the milo before cotton was ready to strip. “We had to harvest some late milo while we were stripping cotton,” David says.
They did not use a harvest aid on milo last year. “If we had enough early maturing grain sorghum we would use a burndown,” J.D. says.
By the last week of May they had all their irrigated cotton planted and some of the milo. They were hoping to get a rain to finish dryland planting.
“It’s been dry,” J.D. says. “We have had no more than 6/10 of an inch of rain at any one time since last fall. It’s been dry for a long time.”
The irrigated cotton already in the ground “looks good so far,” David says. “We’ll plant by the June 5 deadline.” They say 85 percent of their cotton will be irrigated this year.
They look for milo to become an increasingly important part of their crop mix. “Every year will depend on price,” David says. “If milo holds in the $6 to $7 range, we’ll stay with it.”
J.D. and David say the recently passed sorghum checkoff program may encourage more farmers to add milo to a cotton rotation. They say funds for research will likely help develop better varieties and improve grass control techniques.
“We’ll see a lot more research in milo,” J.D. says.