Sorghum acres down, input costs up as drought holds

Texas sorghum acres were expected to decline slightly, but competitive prices, dry weather and input costs could direct some producers toward the crop, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

The prospective acres report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated Texas producers would plant 1.7 million acres of sorghum, down from more than 2 million acres last year. Texas producers planted 1.8 million acres of sorghum in 2020.

Ronnie Schnell, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Bryan-College Station, said actual planted sorghum acres could be above the USDA’s prospective survey report for a variety of reasons, most notably drought and high fertilizer prices.

The grain market is strong with record-level high prices, Schnell said. Corn prices drive the market, but other grains like sorghum and wheat trend upward or downward relative to corn.

According to an April 13 AgriLife Extension Feed Grain Outlook report, May and July per-bushel corn future prices were $7.84 and $7.78, respectively. Corn began a precipitous climb from below $4 per bushel in August 2020 to between $6-$7 per bushel by April 2021, according to a USDA Feed Outlook.

Sorghum prices followed along and have recently fluctuated between $7.50-$8 per bushel, Schnell said.

“The prices are good, so we may see a few more sorghum acres than expected,” he said. “I can certainly see where the dry weather and high input costs might make growers consider sorghum as an option.”

Weather is dry, fertilizer is high

Schnell said he has been planting sorghum variety test plots around state and noted crop conditions and progress at this point of the season. The majority of acres from South and Central Texas up to Dallas were planted, and sorghum acres in the South Plains to Panhandle will follow corn plantings.

“We’re seeing some emergence and fair crop conditions, but emergence in some fields was spotty with poor stands,” he said.

But drought conditions and high input costs could influence producers’ decisions regarding crop options for acres not planted yet, he said. Sorghum is more drought and heat tolerant than corn and generally receives less nitrogen fertilizer, two factors that weigh heavily on planting decisions and could lead to more sorghum acres than the prospective estimate by the USDA.

Schnell said fertilizer costs were consuming double and triple typical percentages of producers’ budgets this year. It will take more bushels of grain to cover the added costs of fertilizer alone compared to an average year.

But as producers see the need to maximize yields, Mother Nature has been withholding the one thing many Texas field acres desperately need – rainfall. Schnell said timely rainfall will be needed for producers to realize good yields.

Planting was complete in the Corpus Christi area of South Texas, one of the largest sorghum-producing areas of the state, he said. Producers were planting seeds deeper than normal to access soil moisture below dry topsoil. Most grain sorghum is grown under non-irrigated conditions and irrigated fields are typically limited irrigation.

Schnell said long-term forecasts continue to call for drier-than-normal conditions, but producers are hopeful weather systems with ample rain will turn conditions around like last year.

“Fertilizer prices are really high, and that is a challenge, but the only way you make things work with the higher input costs is really good yields, so you can take advantage good grain prices,” he said. “If we don’t get rain, that is where it can be difficult.”

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