Traditionally, Nueces County is the number one grain sorghum producing county in Texas, producing more than 8 percent of the state's sorghum crop. This year that will not be the case thanks to a drought that will go down in history as one of the worst.
The growing season began with more than 164,000 acres of sorghum being planted locally and, within a few months after planting, more than 40 percent of that acreage was classified as failed due to lack of a viable plant stand.
Grain sorghum harvest is near completion in Nueces County and yields have been rather poor as one would expect with the severe drought. Over the last 10 years, the average grain sorghum yield in Nueces County has been around 3,689 pounds per acre. This year we will be lucky to average 1,500 pounds per acre.
This year, I conducted a grain sorghum hybrid performance evaluation test with Jerry Faske east of Bishop. Cooperating seed companies that also had a test at the site included; Triumph, Golden Acres, and Garst.
We delayed planting, like most, thinking it would rain, and then planted the test on March 25. During the entire growing season, we measured a total of 1.87 inches of rain, most of
which fell during the month of May. The test was a side-by-side comparison with a tester hybrid planted throughout the field to account for field variability.
The test was machine harvested on July 21 and weights were obtained from an electronic weigh wagon. Yields in the test ranged from a low of 201 pounds per acre to a high of 1,879 pounds per acre.
The best performing hybrids in the test included Garst 5401 at 1,879 pounds per acre and Golden Acres 737 at 1,712 pounds per acre, while the entire test, consisting of 31 hybrids, averaged 1,187 pounds per acre. Complete results of the test will be posted on the Internet at http://nueces-tx.tamu.edu/publications.cfm, under the link for Grain Sorghum Result Demonstrations.
A complete report is also available in the Nueces County Extension Office upon request.
Now here is a little history about grain sorghum that is so important to the local farm economy. Grain sorghum grown here is often called "milo" and the terms "grain sorghum" and "milo" are both used to describe the same crop. It is a member of the grass family and a native wild plant of Africa.
The first grain sorghum seeds may have been brought into the United States during the 1800s on slave ships. It is believed that Benjamin Franklin introduced the first grain sorghum crop into the United States.
Grain sorghums are grown for the grain - round, starchy seeds that can be ground or mixed into animal feeds. Grain sorghum is often used to replace corn in animal feed. The grain is higher in protein and lower in fat content than corn but does not contain carotene.
In the United States, grain sorghum is a major feed ingredient for both cattle and poultry. Traditionally, livestock feeding has used more than 95 percent of the grain sorghum in the United States. However, in recent years, sorghum's use in the ethanol market has seen good growth, with the domestic use in the U.S. ranging from 12 percent to 18 percent of the total domestic production.
Sorghum has also recently appeared in food products in the U.S. because of use in gluten-free food products. Sorghum is an excellent substitute for wheat for those who cannot tolerate gluten.
The future for grain sorghum production is bright since it is one of the most efficient crops in converting solar energy and the use of water, also know as a drought tolerant crop, thus its adaptation to the local area is excellent.
Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5217.