JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- In 15 years of farming, Andrew Cummins had never grown sorghum. But in 2022, when his 12-year-old daughter, Katie, needed milo for a blossoming birdseed business, the first-generation farmer figured he could devote a couple acres to the crop.
"Those couple acres turned into a few more, and the next thing you knew, we ended up planting 150 acres," said the farmer from Santa Fe, Missouri. "I'd been getting into some of the other yield contests, and I thought if we were going to do this and take it seriously, I might as well pour the coals to 10 acres and see what we could really do."
The result was a sorghum yield of 180.11 bushels per acre (bpa), which earned him a third-place finish in the eastern dryland tillage division of the 2022 National Sorghum Yield Contest. He said that overall, he averaged 140 to 150 bpa across his operation, earning sorghum a permanent spot in his crop rotation.
"I've got a lot of farms where I can't grow more than 120- to 140-bushel corn because of all the clay, but the milo just didn't care," Cummins said. "You can put it on poor ground, and it will produce like crazy with little management. We'll be growing about 150 acres -- and entering the contest -- again this year."
Entries are now being accepted for the 2023 National Sorghum Yield Contest. Organized by the National Sorghum Producers (NSP) since 1985, the goal of the contest is to increase grower yields, transfer knowledge between growers to enhance management and identify sorghum producers who excel in each state and throughout the country.
"This competition motivates farmers and seed companies to explore innovative genetics and techniques for enhancing sorghum yields," said Tim Lust, NSP CEO, in the organization's announcement of the contest. "Despite the 2022 drought, we saw excellent top-end yields in the contest from growers nationwide. We look forward to expanding on that success in 2023, and we anticipate a high level of participation in the upcoming contest, resulting in new yield records being set."
The contest is divided into east and west regions, and in each, sorghum growers may enter in one of three divisions: irrigated, dryland no-till or dryland tillage. Growers of food-grade sorghum in both regions compete together with one overall winner named for the division. The top-yielding entry from all divisions earns the Bin Buster Award.
To compete, contestants must be a paid NSP member at the time of entry. More than one member of a family may enroll, but each member must have a separate membership. All entries will be reviewed, and divisions will be placed by yield only. National and state winners will be recognized at the 2024 Commodity Classic in Houston.
In 2022, Cummins set out to grow 200 bpa milo but admitted that he "winged it" a bit when it came to fertility and management. During the season, however, he took tissue samples and gained a better understanding of the crop and its needs.
"I established a baseline last year, and I feel like I've got a handle on where my nutrient deficiencies were and how to correct them," he said. "I'm shooting for 240-bushel milo this year."
Cummins added that the opportunity to attend Commodity Classic and interact with other sorghum growers from across the country was invaluable, allowing him to ask questions and learn from others' mistakes.
"I introduced myself to Ki Gamble from Kansas, who's like the king of milo," he said. "He helped me out a bunch with some stuff I was struggling with, especially on setting up my combine. He gave me his phone number and said to call any time. That was cool. This guy's a 13-time national champion, and I've got his number in my phone."
The entry deadline for the 2023 contest is Nov. 15. A complete field of 10 or more continuous acres, planted in the sorghum seed variety named on the entry form, will be designated as the contest field. The contestants must harvest and report at least 1.5 contiguous acres. Harvest reports will be made available to contest entrants beginning May 1. All completed forms must be received at the NSP office or postmarked no later than Nov. 25.
Contest rules and entry form can be found online at www.sorghumgrowers.com/yield-contest. For more information, contact NSP Director of Operations Julie Barclay at 806-749-3478.
In the 2022 national contest, Brant and Amy Peterson, who operate Winsome Farms in Johnson, Kansas, earned the Bin Buster Award with a record-setting yield of 245.80 bpa. Read more about their efforts here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
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