There’s been a lot of talk of late about increasing sorghum acres in the Carolinas. While still small, there are an increasing number of sorghum growers, and Steve Gamble Jr., along with his brother Jason in Clarendon Co. South Carolina produced an impressive 139.3 bushels per acre in an area with an average of just under 70 bushels on no-till non-irrigated land placing third in the nation. Gamble explains how they got into sorghum production:
"The way we got into sorghum business was for bird seed. We were planting it on marginal land. People wanting feed for quail production and stuff. So we just started playing with a few acres of it… and we've grown now from starting out at a 100 acres to 450 acres, now. So we figured we'd better put a little more time into it and try to bump our yields. We'd just been playing with the fertilizer program and it was all new to us… sorghum was. We'd never produced sorghum before until about 10 years ago."
The 2011 growing season was a struggle for most crops, and sorghum was no exception. Gamble says their yield numbers were a bit of a surprise:
"It was a surprise but we did get the rain at just at the right time. But we had put a little more time into it, and concentrated a little more on it and had it on better land and we were expecting to have a better yield as we were watching it through the year… but it was still somewhat of a surprise…"
Gamble says that one of the keys to their high yields is nitrogen management and…:
"We've tried a lot of different things over the past ten years… fertility and nitrogen management has been one of our keys. Where we make our highest yield is on good land, on good corn land."
Gamble goes on to discuss the type of land situations, in his experience, that have worked best for sorghum:
"If you're putting it on good land, at today's prices, you're better with corn. I would say that. Now, if you're working with marginal land and your only option is to plant wheat and soybeans on it and you need something for rotation when it's too marginal for corn, you're scared to put corn on it, sorghum is a fit, it's a good fit. But you can't expect to get those high yields out of marginal land."
In an effort to promote sorghum in the Carolinas, some have said that it would be a good rotation crop for fields with a glyphosate resistant weed problem. Gamble says that’s not the case in his experience:
"Because we don't have Roundup Ready sorghum; we don't have herbicide tolerant sorghum… and from talking to a lot of the seed guys and the sorghum growers association, I don't think we'll ever see Roundup Ready sorghum because it is too close of a kin to Johnson grass. I would say you can use atrazine on sorghum like you do corn; but as far as grass control, you're absolutely limited."
Gamble says that due to the genetic proximity of sorghum to certain weed species, Roundup Ready sorghum will never be. And that’s why his experience has been to use other crops in fields with a history of glyphosate resistant weeds:
"If we had Roundup Ready sorghum, it would be perfect. You know it would be very similar to corn. My idea with corn is, if I have a weed infested field of glyphosate tolerant pigweed, I'm going to put corn in it. I can clean it up with corn, you know, with atrazine and 24D, we have a lot of chemicals available in corn, but not in sorghum."
The Gamble operation also placed second nationally in the mulch-til non-irrigated category with 152 bu/a with a county average of just under 70, and his brother, Jason placed first in the nation in the conventional till non irrigated category with 151 bu/a with a county average of just under 70 as well.
To see a complete list of the sorghum production winners, click here…