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Spring rain aids grain sorghum planting

Oklahoma producer Kent Martin is thankful for the recent rainfall. He says he got "just enough" rain to plant his grain sorghum into moisture. He says he's got a consistent stand but lacks proile moisture. (Photos for this article were taken by Martin's 14-year-old daughter, Katelee Martin. Read more about her at the conclusion of this article.)
Oklahoma producer discusses his sorghum crop, drought, crop rotation alternatives and marketing in a year of high inputs and unpredictable weather.

Kent Martin got just enough rain to plant grain sorghum into moisture, finishing in early May. Now, he hopes in-season rains will take it to harvest.

“I got all the sorghum planted last week (May 8-14).  Everything is up, even what I planted last Thursday (May 12). It emerged in three days, fastest emergence ever.”

KM Checking.jpgKent Martin checks crop progress. (Photo taken by Katelee Martin)

Martin farms near Alva, Oklahoma, with fields stretching across some 25 miles in Woods and Alfalfa counties. “We had a 1.3-inch rain to give us enough moisture to plant. One small area got an additional three tenths.

“I have a good, consistent stand, but not a lot of profile moisture,” he says. “We usually have fall rains, but not last fall, so moisture is still limited. The stand is good, established, and I am happy at this point.”

Wheat did not fare well. He was spraying to terminate the crop when he stopped the sprayer to talk with Farm Press. “It’s pretty dry even after we had a couple of small rains that allowed us to plant sorghum into moisture. I did not have enough through the winter for wheat. I’m terminating it now.”

Martin says he had only two rains after he planted wheat in October. “We had one snow with enough accumulation to count. Drought has been quite a challenge this year.”

Drought biggest challenge

That struggle will continue. “This year, moisture, or lack of moisture, has been the biggest challenge so far.”

He says delayed seeding, caused by the dry spring, could weigh on management through the season. “Typically, we start planting sorghum April 15, not the first of May. This year, soils were so hard and so dry I couldn’t get deep enough to hit moisture or penetrate that hard surface.

“So, it’s delayed. I usually grow sorghum and doublecrop wheat behind it. I terminate sorghum mid to late September and plant wheat early to mid-October. My preference is to plant before May 1.”

Too cool early

Martin says erratic temperatures have posed problems, too. “Early, we had relatively cool soil temperatures. Usually by mid-April, we have 60-to-65-degree temperatures. This spring, we had an extended cool period. We hit 60 the first of May. Anything planted before that was slow to emerge. Going forward, that delay creates a little challenge.”

Weed control

He says erratic rainfall limits potential to activate herbicides. We need rain now to activate pre-emergence herbicides. If it doesn’t’ rain, we do not get as good weed control.

katelee-martin-kent-truck2.jpgKent Martin says herbicides applied on the early planted sorghum had enough moisture to be activated. (Photo by Katelee Martin)

“My typical practice is to apply preemerge materials, split into two applications, half before and half after planting. In a typical year, split applications minimize risk of missing a rain for activation. This year, herbicides on the early planted grain sorghum had enough moisture to be activated.”

He says new sorghum hybrids offer some in-season control options. “I plant a lot of conventional sorghum, but I also have some Double-Team technology from S&W Seed that allows over-the-top grass control in season. This is one of three technologies that came out last year and is gaining popularity for grass issues.”

No aphid problems

Martin says he is “always on the lookout for sugarcane aphids. I have not had an aphid problem in five years, at least not enough to warrant spraying.”

He says his typical planting window allows the sorghum to “outrun aphid movement into the area.”

He says concern for sugarcane aphid injury in his area has decreased. “I am not expecting to spray for aphids. I select hybrids for aphid tolerance. Even with heavy aphid pressure, hybrids with tolerance hold on.

He recalls a time when sorghum reached treatment threshold on a weekend. “It needed to be sprayed. At that time, we were not fully aware of what the threshold needed to be.”

He says if a producer doesn’t have the chemical available and is not prepped and ready to spray over a weekend, it could be Monday or Tuesday before he gets the insecticide and perhaps another day before he can apply it.

“With tolerant hybrids, I can take two or three days to get spray lined up. I might see some damage but not to the level on susceptible hybrids.

“We never seem to have all the chemicals we need at any given moment.”

High costs

Martin says managing costs will be a big challenge this year. “For my crops and rotations, grain sorghum is the least risky crop, requiring the least amount of moisture. I have somewhat of a comfort level in balancing budgets for grain sorghum. But fertilizer, chemicals, herbicides, and fuel costs are big issues.

katelee-martin-kent-getting-in-truck.jpgHeaded to the field. Kent Martin says he is running a tight ship this year due to high input costs. (Photo by Katelee Martin)

“We are running really tight,” he adds. “Commodity prices are going up and offset some of that, but high input costs are a concern and weigh heavily on a farmer’s mind. It is much harder to set a crop budget.”

That process usually begins in the fall, Martin says, as he maps out winter rotations and makes decisions on buying fertilizer and other products. “The price we had last fall is very different from the price we see today.

“That’s not specific to grain sorghum, but our inputs are a bit lower, which helps keep budgets in line. Grain sorghum doesn’t require as much intensive management in season. The unknowns are fewer.”

Other options limited

He has other crop options available for his rotation plan. “I have grown or may grow, in addition to grain sorghum, wheat, sesame (He’s getting away from it.), canola, Sudan, and soybeans at times. This year, I am coming out of wheat, destroying almost all of it. I will cut only one place with an established yield of 5 bushels per acre. Everything else is in grain sorghum except some sorghum Sudan for a hay crop.”

He says if the area gets a “significant rain, I might consider soybeans, especially if I had the opportunity to plant behind failed wheat. Now, I do not have the moisture profile to plant soybeans.”

Canola option

He says he’s watching the canola market and will decide soon if it makes sense to go back with canola into failed wheat acres next year.

“In the past, canola has been hit and miss. I’ve had some good years and some poor years, depending on winter weather.”

Tillage practices might be a factor in that decision, too. “I till only if I have to, and canola likes tillage. Residue presents challenges for canola, especially with an early cold snap that hinders germination and emergence. Some years I’ve done very well with it."

Martin plants canola a bit earlier than wheat. “I want canola in no later than Oct. 10. My target Is Sept. 25 to Oct 5. Wheat can go in much later, to the end of October.”

He says the grain sorghum market, as with other grains, is very good. He has some marketed, but “not a lot. I have some wheat marketed, too, and that was not a good thing to do this year. I am a bit hesitant to market much with the moisture conditions we have.”

Martin says his grain sorghum yields have been good the last few years. “My yield expectations range from 70 to 90 bushels per acre. That can vary quite a lot and it takes a very good year to make that. In a poor year, I can do 40 to 45 bushels per acre. I base my budget on 70 to 90.”

For now, he’s pleased with the stand and the planting moisture. He's hoping the planting delay will not affect his yield goal too much. But mostly he’s hoping the drought that has persisted since last fall breaks and he gets enough in-season rain to hit that benchmark.

Meet the photographer

konya-katelee-martin.jpgThis is Katelee Martin. She is the 14-year-old daughter of Kent and Konya Martin. She graciously agreed to take pictures to accompany this article about her daddy. Katelee credits her interest in photography to her mother, Konya, a former photographer. In June, Katelee is headed to nationals with some of her photos and will compete at the 2022 Technology Student Association Conference in Dallas, Texas. She shows goats, is involved in 4-H, and has run two half-marathons. She is quite the young lady! Take a look at the photo gallery to see a few more! (Photo by Konya Martin)



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