Grain sorghum status in Texas may be a combination of Rodney Dangerfield's old shticks about not getting no respect and the Avis Car Rental commercial about trying harder when you're number two.
It may be hard to garner much respect with sorghum prices too low to make a profit on average yields. Of course the same can be said about other food and feed grains. Still, folks see a lot of value in grain sorghum as an integral part of rotation systems.
That's the reasoning behind the sorghum PROFIT (Productive Rotation On Farms In Texas) program funded by the state legislature in 1999 and recently approved for another year. Profit will receive $750,000.00 in 2001 for research projects that demonstrate how row spacing, water usage and residual values of sorghum will enhance farm production systems.
“We've demonstrated in our first year's research that cotton yields increase behind sorghum because of the improved water-holding capacity made possible by more residue,” says Ray Watson, executive director of the Texas Grain Sorghum Producers Association in Lubbock.
“Some studies indicate that cotton and sorghum yields both increase in rotation. We've seen production of 10,000 pounds of sorghum per acre in the Texas Panhandle, following corn. A cotton/sorghum rotation performs better, however.”
Watson says the goal is to include sorghum in a rotation and develop best management practices that conserve water and improve soil.
Plans for 2001 studies include tests in the three major production areas — The Coastal Bend, The High Plains and The Blacklands.
“We've seen significant results in the Costal Bend,” Watson says. “Research shows high yield increases in cotton behind sorghum. Also, we've noted less water use in cotton following grain sorghum.”
Watson sys the Coastal Bend produces the largest percentage of the state's grain sorghum.
“We're also interested in studies in the Rolling Plains,” he says. “That's not a major production area but we see a lot of opportunity for rotation studies there.”
He says growers around Roscoe, for instance, depend almost entirely on cotton. “But a lot of feedlots and grain elevators also contribute to the agricultural economy. A grain sorghum rotation would help cotton farmers by improving yields and conserving their limited water resources. It also would benefit the businesses that depend on grain.”
Watson says growers now have to pay freight to ship grain into the area. Local production would make the livestock and grain industries more efficient.
Currently, Texas producers plant just over 3 million acres of grain sorghum annually, the second largest acreage, behind cotton.
“We would like to see about 4.5 million acres of grain sorghum. We don't want a sorghum monoculture but an increased emphasis as an important rotation crop to improve farm profitability.”
Watson says communication and education also will play important roles for grain sorghum.
“We're trying to develop a market education program at the University of Texas Pan America campus, in Edinburgh. Our goal is to attract students with Hispanic backgrounds into the program.
“Last year, we sold 60 percent of our grain sorghum into Mexico and we feel that we left a lot of money on the table because we don't understand the language and culture. We hope to attract young people into the program who do understand the culture of Mexico.”