Sorghum species crops as a drought emergency crop

Drought conditions have been regionalized across Michigan and other Midwestern states. Sorghum species crops can be planted in droughty areas to supplement forage supply of dairy and beef producers.

Weather conditions have been dry in several areas across Michigan. Additionally the early warm weather within the state resulted in forage crops such as alfalfa breaking dormancy and subsequently being damaged by frost, resulting in yield and quality reductions as well.

Ruminant producers dependent on forage production can utilize summer planting of sorghum species crops to supplement current feed production. Sorghum crops can yield three to eleven or more tons per acre. Higher yielding species typically will contain lower fiber digestibility. Fiber digestibility will be greater in brown midrib species and can have energy values similar to corn silage.

Soil temperature is critical for germination. Soils temperature needs to be at least 60 degrees F but 65 F is preferable. Germination during drought conditions can be another challenge. Seed should be planted two inches deep into a firm seedbed to improve germination in dry soil conditions. Rolling or cultipacking soil behind the grain drill will also aid in creating good seed to soil contact and draw moisture towards the surface.

As is the case with all sorghum species crops, prussic acid poisoning can be a problem. Prussic acid is found in its highest concentrations in the leaves and new shoots making grazing cattle most susceptible. Frost and severe drought frequently increase prussic acid content and should not be grazed under these conditions. Prussic acid poisoning usually is not a problem in stored feeds. Concentrations of prussic acid decrease during the sun curing and fermentation process. Sorghum crops can be stored as chopped silage, round bale silage and sun cured hay.

Choosing which sorghum species and variety to plant will be dependent upon the nutritive requirements of the livestock to which it will be fed and the need to increase forage production.

For more information on growing sorghum crops to supplement forage harvest during drought conditions contact Frank Wardynski, Ruminant Educator, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension.

Related MSU Extension News article: Planting brown midrib sorghum sudangrass to replace corn silage.

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