Grain Sorghum Research in Western Nebraska

Grain sorghum variety trial at the Henry J. Stumpf International Wheat Center near Grant, Nebraska, summer 2019.
Figure 1. Grain sorghum variety trial at the Henry J. Stumpf International Wheat Center near Grant, Nebraska, summer 2019.

Grain Sorghum Research in Western Nebraska

Grain sorghum is a warm-season grassy crop most known for its efficient water use and drought tolerance. It is primarily grown in the southern Great Plains, but recent genetic improvements have made it possible to grow it in cooler climates. Many Nebraska farmers have, therefore, implemented grain sorghum as a complementary part of their dryland crop rotation.

New to Grain Sorghum? Check out the Kansas State University Grain Sorghum Production Handbook.

Chart showing standability of grain sorghum varieties in 15-inch vs 30-inch rows
Figure 2. Relationship between yield and standability of grain sorghum varieties evaluated during the 2019 growing season at Grant.

In semiarid western Nebraska, corn is the most prevalent crop in dryland crop rotations, taking up approximately 50% of the planted acres every year. However, research completed on grain sorghum in the central Great Plains region makes a compelling case for grain sorghum. It offers several advantages over corn under certain conditions:

  • Better yield under drier or limited irrigation environment (Klocke et al., 2014).
  • A 50% higher yield than corn in similar dryland crop rotations (Schlegel et al., 2019).
  • Lower cost of production inputs (e.g., price of certified seed).
  • Sorghum is a self-pollinated crop; thus, it is less affected by environmental stresses during pollination.

The disadvantages of grain sorghum compared to corn are mostly related to lower yield in higher rainfall environments, lower grain market price, and fewer marketing opportunities.

Variety Testing Initiated at Grant

To help western Nebraska farmers identify the best-adapted genetics for grain sorghum in the region, we initiated variety testing at Henry J. Stumpf International Wheat Center near Grant. In addition, we wanted to evaluate the effects of row spacing on sorghum varieties. We evaluated the performance of 24 grain sorghum varieties planted in 15- and 30-inch rows.

Trial summary

Site Description

  • Soil type: Kuma silt loam
  • Previous crop: Wheat (stripper header)
  • Tillage: No-till
  • Irrigation: None
  • Rainfall (May to October): 16 inches

Agronomic Practices

  • Planting date: May 17, 2019
  • Harvest date: Nov. 3, 2019
  • Row spacing: 15- and 30-inch rows
  • Seeding rate: 65,000 seeds/ac
  • Final population: ~45,000 plants/ac
  • Herbicide + fertilizer (April 27):
  • 32 oz Buccaneer 5 + AMS
  • 14 oz Verdict
  • 16 oz atrazine 4L
  • 29 gal of 32-0-0 (100 lbs N/ac)

Key Takeaways from the Study

Overall, grain sorghum yielded better in narrow rows. When averaged across all varieties, yield in 15-inch rows was 115 bu/ac, which was 20 bu/ac greater than in 30-inch rows (Table 1). K-State researchers reported a yield benefit of 4 bu/ac with narrow (15-inch) rows as compared to wide (30-inch) rows, especially when yields were above 70 bu/ac (Ciampitti, 2019).

High yields can be achieved in both 15- and 30-inch rows, but 15-inch rows had better yield stability. Although the best performing varieties in both 15- and 30-inch rows achieved a 132 bu/ac yield, the lowest ranked variety in 15- and 30-inch rows yielded 46 bu/ac (86 bu/ac) and 110 bu/ac (22 bu/ac) less, respectively (Table 2).

Variety performance ratings changed with row spacing. Among 24 varieties evaluated, 16 varieties yielded 10-77 bu/ac better in narrow rows, six varieties had similar yield (± 10 bu/ac) regardless of the row spacing, and only two varieties had at least a 10 bu/ac yield increase in wide rows. In our study, narrow rows yielded better 75% of the time. However, in a similar study, K-State researchers reported that 71% of all the observations yielded better with wider rows.

Each seed company had at least one top-performing variety, regardless of the row spacing. In western Nebraska where grain sorghum is not as widespread, increased competition can provide easier access to the good seed and agronomic services.

Avoid varieties with long maturity and lodging issues. Varieties evaluated in this study were early to medium in maturity and 51-67 days to mid-bloom (Table 1). Keep in mind that in our cooler environments, days to mid-bloom can be delayed by as much as 20 days when compared to what is reported by companies. The AS262 from Arrow Seed and two Hoegemeyer varieties (XP4720 and HPT 6064) seemed to be particularly late in their development, which affected their performance. Certain varieties had lodging issues when planted in 30-inch rows (Figure 2). For example, Dyna-Gro M57GB19 lodging was severe in 30-inch rows which caused it to be ranked 21st among 24 varieties evaluated. In 15-inch rows, the same variety was ranked second best.

Conclusion

Grain sorghum has a great potential to be a part of dryland crop rotations in western Nebraska. Although this study was a good start for developing grain sorghum resources for Nebraska growers, we remind growers always to consider multi-year and multi-location data when making important agronomic decisions.

References

Schlegel, A.; Haag, L.; and Burnett, A. (2019) Large-Scale Dryland Cropping Systems. Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station Research Reports: Vol. 5: Iss. 7. 

Klocke, N.L., R.S. Currie, I. Kisekka, L.R. Stone. 2014. Corn and grain sorghum response to limited irrigation, drought and hail. Applied Engineering in Agriculture, Vol 30 (6):915-924

Ignacio Ciampitti. Sorghum management considerations: Planting practices. K-State Research and Extension Agronomy eUpdate. Issue 747, May 17, 2019.

Table 1. Yield (bu/ac), performance ranking, and variety characteristics of 24 grain sorghum varieties grown in 15- and 30-inch rows at Grant, Nebraska in 2019. (PDF version)
CompanyVariety15-inch rows30-inch rowsYield Difference (15- vs 30- inch rows)Variety CharacteristicsGrain Color3Plant Color4Relative Maturity5Days to Mid-bloom
Yield (bu/ac)1 Rank Yield (bu/ac) Rank
Type/ Class2


(bu/ac)




Arrow Seed AS212 114 13 125 2 -11 C R P E 51
Arrow Seed AS248FG 113 18 95 14 17 F W T E/M 60
Arrow Seed AS262 86 24 58 22 28 C R P M 65
Dyna-Gro M54GR24 123 7 97 12 26 C B P E 54
Dyna-Gro M57GB19 128 2 63 21 66 C B P E 57
Dyna-Gro M59GB57 118 9 132 1 -13 C B P E 59
Dyna-Gro M60GB31 117 10 84 19 33 C B P M 60
Dyna-Gro M60GB88 113 17 89 16 24 C B P E/M 60
Dyna-Gro M62GB77 109 19 94 15 15 C B P M 62
Golden Acres 2620C 107 20 95 13 12 C C P ME 58
Golden Acres 2730B 114 14 84 20 31 C B P ME 59
Golden Acres 2950B 132 1 122 4 10 C B P ME 58
Hoegemeyer HPT 6020 124 5 124 3 0 C R E 62
Hoegemeyer HPT 6064 99 23 22 24 77 C B ME 66
Hoegemeyer XP4720 106 21 57 23 49 C B M 66
Pioneer 86P20 127 3 120 5 8 C R P E 64
Pioneer 87P10 113 16 85 18 28 C R P E 63
Pioneer 88P71 115 12 115 7 0 C R P E 62
Sorghum Partners SP 25C10 117 11 87 17 30 C C P E 51
Sorghum Partners SP 31A15 104 22 107 9 -3 C B P E 57
Sorghum Partners KS310 124 4 105 10 19 C B P E 57
Sorghum Partners SP 33S40 114 15 117 6 -3 F C T ME 58
Sorghum Partners SP 43M80 119 8 114 8 5 C B P ME 60
Sorghum Partners SP 68M57 123 6 100 11 23 C B P ME 67
Average of all varieties 115 95 +20
Difference at 5% level (LSD) 17 15
Coefficient of variation (CV) 9 12
1 Yield at 56 lbs/bu adjusted to 14% grain moisture
2 C = commercial hybrid, F= Food hybrid
3 B=bronze, C=cream, R=red, Y=yellow, W=white, etc.
4 P=purple, T=Tan
5 E = early, E/M = early-medium, M = medium, M/L = medium-late, L = late

Table 2. Ranking of grain sorghum varieties by their performance in 15- and 30-inch rows

Rank
15-inch rows 30-inch rows
Company Variety Yield1
(bu/ac)
Company Variety Yield1
(bu/ac)
1 Golden Acres 2950B 132 Dyna-Gro M59GB57 132
2 Dyna-Gro M57GB19 128 Arrow Seed AS212 125
3 Pioneer 86P20 127 Hoegemeyer HPT 6020 124
4 Sorghum Partners KS310 124 Golden Acres 2950B 122
5 Hoegemeyer HPT 6020 124 Pioneer 86P20 120
6 Sorghum Partners SP 68M57 123 Sorghum Partners SP 33S40 117
7 Dyna-Gro M54GR24 123 Pioneer 88P71 115
8 Sorghum Partners SP 43M80 119 Sorghum Partners SP 43M80 114
9 Dyna-Gro M59GB57 118 Sorghum Partners SP 31A15 107
10 Dyna-Gro M60GB31 117 Sorghum Partners KS310 105
11 Sorghum Partners SP 25C10 117 Sorghum Partners SP 68M57 100
12 Pioneer 88P71 115 Dyna-Gro M54GR24 97
13 Arrow Seed AS212 114 Golden Acres 2620C 95
14 Golden Acres 2730B 114 Arrow Seed AS248FG 95
15 Sorghum Partners SP 33S40 114 Dyna-Gro M62GB77 94
16 Pioneer 87P10 113 Dyna-Gro M60GB88 89
17 Dyna-Gro M60GB88 113 Sorghum Partners SP 25C10 87
18 Arrow Seed AS248FG 113 Pioneer 87P10 85
19 Dyna-Gro M62GB77 109 Dyna-Gro M60GB31 84
20 Golden Acres 2620C 107 Golden Acres 2730B 84
21 Hoegemeyer XP4720 106 Dyna-Gro M57GB19 63
22 Sorghum Partners SP 31A15 104 Arrow Seed AS262 58
23 Hoegemeyer HPT 6064 99 Hoegemeyer XP4720 57
24 Arrow Seed AS262 86 Hoegemeyer HPT 6064 22
Difference at 5% level (LSD) 17 15
1 Yield at 56 lbs/bu adjusted to 14% grain moisture