Grain sorghum’s rock star – Successful Farming


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Year in and year out, Ki Gamble’s grain sorghum yields top the charts of the National Sorghum Producers (NSP) Yield Contest. His high-powered yield history is long:  

204.5 bushels per acre (irrigated) and 194.9 bushels per acre (dryland) in 2019

214.56 bushels per acre (irrigated) in 2018

215 bushels per acre (irrigated) in 2012 

177.97 bushels per acre (irrigated, food grade) in 2014 

19 top three finishes overall

In 2018, he was named to the National Sorghum Yield Contest Hall of Fame, but make no mistake: Gamble is not about the accolades. He intends to maximize yield on every acre, contest field or not. 

“We don’t treat our contest farms any different than the rest of the farm,” Gamble says. “We try to maximize our bushels at a fair and appropriate expense to get those bushels.”

Attention to Detail

The following year’s grain sorghum crop begins with fastidious weed control right after wheat harvest, which occurs the June before grain sorghum is planted. 

“Preparation for a milo crop starts the minute the wheat crop leaves the field the previous year,” he says. “You have to make sure the wheat stubble stays clean and sprayed. Don’t let any grasses go to seed because if you get grasses in a milo crop, you’re done. There’s no way to rescue it.”

The fall prior to grain sorghum planting, Gamble applies glyphosate, dicamba, and 2,4-D, with another application of the same in the spring. 

“Two weeks before we plant, we apply glyphosate and 2 ounces per acre of Sharpen to get residual grasses and weeds,” he adds. Silt loam soils that contain higher organic matter receive 1.5 quarts per acre of Lexar preemerge, while sandier soils get a preemerge shot of Milo-Pro (propazine herbicide) and Dual II Magnum. 

Gamble strip-tills in the fall, using soil test results as the basis for his fertility regimen. With an Orthman strip-till rig, he applies 40 Rock fertilizer – which contains nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur, and zinc – at a rate of between 100 and 150 pounds of product per acre. At planting, he applies 20 gallons of 19-0-17-05 fertilizer. Proper fertility, Gamble theorizes, is essential not only to top yields, but also to keep the crop from lodging at the end of the growing season. 

Gamble tends to be loyal: Pioneer’s 84G62 hybrid is planted on most of his acres. In 2019, Gamble also planted the company’s 85P44, which adds sugarcane aphid tolerance. He is not exclusive to one seed company, but carefully notes which hybrids perform the best in the NSP Yield Contest.

The planting population ranges from 30,000 to 35,000 seeds per acre in dryland to 80,000 on irrigated ground. However, even when planting and growing conditions are not ideal, grain sorghum will compensate, he says.

“We have harvested over 100-bushel grain sorghum on populations as low as 15,000 to 20,000 seeds per acre,” Gamble explains. “Grain sorghum is a forgiving crop. It will tiller. But if you push it above 35,000 seeds per acre in a dry year, it will cannibalize the stalk, and we’ll be picking it up off the ground at harvest.”

Looking Into The Future

Gamble is thinking about narrowing row spacing from the 30-inch row spacing with a John Deere planter, to 7.5-inch row spacing and planting with an air seeder to push for 250-bushel grain sorghum yields. The drawback is the amount of crop a combine would have to process in the case of lodging, or if a herbicide failure were to occur.

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