Sorghum Grass in Alberta

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A Waaay Back Wednesday post from 2006 Farming Smarter Magazine
It’s so far back, we can’t find the photo that went with it. But there are lots of sorghum images on Google!

You can also find the original article on AGCanada.com

Study shows Warm Season Grasses can work in rotation

Warm season grasses offer producers an alternative in rotations and a viable choice for late season planting.

A three-year study conducted by Southern Applied Research Association (SARA) experimented with several varieties of Sorghum-Sudan grass mixed with millet.

Warm season grasses (WSG) are more common in the U. S., but producers began trying them in southern Alberta in recent years. The Sorghum-Sudan is a hybrid between grain Sorghum and Sudan grass.

“Subsistence farmers use grain Sorghum as an alternative to corn, because it is very drought tolerant, has a much bigger root system and less leaves. If it gets dry weather, it will go dormant whereas corn will dry out,” says Paul Jungnitsch SARA agronomist.

“Sudan grass is a more fine-stemmed, leafy grass, so the hybrid gets the benefits of both,” he adds

Southern Alberta Experiments

SARA experimented with growing five-acre strips of different varieties of Sorghum-Sudan and millet to see how they perform on a larger scale in southern Alberta conditions. WSG are competition for corn, oats and forage. During the experimentation, they swath grazed, bailed and stockpile grazed the crop.

“So far, they had decent growth. There are some differences between the varieties, but the interesting finding is that grasshoppers don’t seem to like them,” Jungnitsch says.

He adds that when you combine that feature with the crop’s drought tolerance, WSG may make an interesting fit into a rotation during dry years.

The study also showed that WSG grows rapidly; which allows for late planting in emergencies. They grow to about four or five feet tall and yield 1,465-1,800 pounds per acre of dry matter.

A southern Alberta producer who used WSG for the past three years stock pile grazed the crop to cut down on energy and equipment costs. He seeds warm season grasses one year, fences the whole quarter, moves the cows in to graze over the winter (which spreads the manure around the field, then seeds a regular crop in the following year.

“He cuts down his machinery costs by avoiding feeding the cattle, hauling manure and increases his yield on his next crop,” Jungnitsch says. He cautions that the study did find some challenges with the crop.

Challenges

With Sorghum-Sudan grass, there can be nitrate and prussic acid issues and, because of the millet, there are limited choices for weed management.

The nitrates are a problem if the growth suddenly stops; during a cold snap for instance or a period of no moisture. “This can be an issue with other feed crops, but seems more of an issue with these,” Jungnitsch explains. The Sorghum Sudan grass also gets a prussic acid build up under these conditions, but it dissipates after seven days.

“You just let it dry down and the prussic acid dissipates,” he adds.

SARA hopes to continue monitoring warm season grasses through communication with producers who grow them. SARA would like any producers who chose to grow the crops in their rotation to invite Jungnitsch to see the crop and talk about how it worked for you. Contact Paul Jungnitsch if you try WSG on your operation.