Higher prices may make double crop milo feasible

Grain sorghum at $9 a hundredweight makes a double crop option following wheat a lot better opportunity than it did two years ago when milo was selling for less than half that price.

Plainview, Texas, cotton, livestock and grain producer Glenn Schur still wants to look closely at the budgets before committing to double crop milo long term, but says this year it's worth a try.

“With the price of grain where it is, I want to look at double crop milo,” Schur says. ‘I'll try a small acreage.’

He has a 120-acre pivot in wheat, from which he hopes to harvest a good crop. “I'll plant half that circle in milo,” he says.

He plans to strip-till a short season grain sorghum variety into the wheat stubble.

“I'll need to make at least 3500 pounds per acre to break even,” he says, “considering the fertilizer, diesel and harvest costs.”

He says using a strip-till system will limit expenses. “I don't plan to cultivate,” he says.

Wheat should come off in mid-June. “We should be able to plant grain sorghum around June 20 or so. With short-season milo I'll have until about July 5 to get it in. If I can't plant by then, I probably will not.”

He plans to add about 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre to the milo and will irrigate if necessary. “We need to make the yield,” he says, “so we have to manage it. At $9 a hundred pounds, the option looks a lot more promising than it did when sorghum was selling for $4. That would not work at all. If we get some rain (and have to irrigate less) we will be in good shape.”

Schur says he's planting milo to make a profit so he will not skimp on production. If the crop does well, he'll have two good crops in one year. He says the wheat could make from 60 to 80 bushels per acre.

“We irrigated wheat through the winter and spring,” he says, “so yield potential is good.”

A dry spring may have helped irrigated wheat. “We have seen hardly any disease so far,” Schur says, “and did not spray a fungicide. But it was expensive to irrigate. I haven't put a pencil to irrigation costs yet, but irrigation last year ran from $10 to $12 per acre-inch. This year it's likely to be $14 to $16. We applied 12 to 15 inches of water to the wheat.”

He says the wheat crop “has been saved by spring rain. We had as much as 4 inches in mid-May, at the tail end of the season. That rain probably made us more bushels of wheat than the irrigation water did.”

He says crop prices, water availability and irrigation costs, along with productivity, will be key factors in whether he tries double crop milo again. “The price of wheat and milo will be important,” he says. “Also, we use wheat as a rotation crop with cotton and we don't have to irrigate that land in the summer.”

Resting wheat fields over a summer allows him to use water resources more efficiently and that's a factor that will weigh heavily in future double crop decisions. “We have to look at the costs to irrigate grain sorghum.”

He's tried the double crop option before, when sorghum prices were much lower. “Some years it worked well and some years it didn't,” he says. “It just depends on the season.”

Schur was finishing cotton planting in late May and says he's cut acreage a bit because of production costs.

“All my cotton is irrigated. I have no dryland cotton this year because of higher production expenses. Some fertilizer prices have doubled from last year and diesel is about twice as high. I think, the way commodities are now, if we have a big dip in prices we could be in for a big wreck. We've had a double whammy on production expenses this year with energy and fertilizer up.”

He says consumers don't understand the farmer's plight when they blame farm programs or ethanol production for higher food prices.

“The big demand for energy is the key,” he says. “All commodities are affected by energy prices. At every point in food production, energy costs play a role. The big difference is a farmer can't add on an energy surcharge.”

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