Why grow sorghum (milo)?

Farm Forum

I recently shared one of the breakout sessions with Dwayne Beck, Manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, at the Sorghum U educational event held in Mitchell on April 3. In the process of preparing my presentation, listening to Dwayne’s, visiting with the trade show exhibitors and hearing the farmer panel, I learned some new things about the crop, particularly why producers should include it in their cropping program. Most of my presentation dealt with the basic agronomics of successful milo production, but also included the efficiency with which milo uses water to produce grain, the importance of milo in maintaining high populations of pheasants and the potentially lower cost to raise milo compared to corn.

Dwayne’s presentation dealt a good deal with the rotational benefits of milo, and rotations and sequences in which it works well. There is no perfect or right crop rotation, but each crop a producer can work into their production system offers flexibility of intensity and diversity, which especially makes no-till production systems approach stable and sustainable profitability. At least three crop types (grass vs broadleaf and cool season vs warm season) and long intervals of 2 – 4 years are needed to break some of the disease and weed cycles, and diversity is effective in managing insect pest populations. For much of South Dakota, milo offers an alternative in these systems.

Some people may say that corn and milo are both warm season grass crops, so including both crops in a rotation doesn’t add diversity. The reality is that there is some difference in planting date, some variation in herbicide choices, and milo offers both disease and insect pest benefits.

In the disease arena, one of the pathogens that can seriously plague corn producers is Goss’ Wilt, a bacterial disease. Being a bacterial disease, fungicides offer no control for Goss’ Wilt, and their use can actually make the disease worse, through weakening the natural, protective layer on the leaf, and through killing beneficial fungi, which feed on bacteria. Two bacterial diseases can occur on milo, Bacterial stripe and Bacterial streak, neither of which have warranted control measures, and which are different organisms than Goss’ Wilt. With no pesticides effective against Goss’ Wilt in corn, control measures are limited to hybrid resistance, crop rotation and residue management. Astute no-till producers know that they need all the residue they can get, so have no interest in tilling or removing residue. Milo offers a rotational crop ahead of corn that can help control Goss’ Wilt.

Corn rootworms and corn borers are two of the insect pests that corn producers have to manage, and crop rotations that put years a field is in corn close together intensify the need to do so. Neither insect affects or can survive on milo, adding another benefit to including the crop in rotations. Several of these characteristics may explain why Dwayne reports that he gets higher corn yields at Dakota Lakes when the corn follows milo than when corn follows corn.

Dwayne says they grow milo at Dakota Lakes because it’s better than corn when it’s hot, when it’s dry, for catching snow, it has less insect pressure, lower seed cost and the residue is easier to seed into.