Growing sorghum as a dairy forage can provide significant value for farmers, particularly as water availability continues to be a growing concern. The interest in sorghum can vary between wet and dry years – based on the crops’ ability to handle drought stress – but sorghum also holds value in terms of yield when compared to other forages.
“Sorghum has been touted as a crop that’s drought-tolerant and doesn’t have the same level of nitrogen requirements as corn and even as a salt-tolerant crop,” said Nick Clarke, Agronomy and Nutrient Management Advisor for Fresno, Kings and Tulare Counties. “We do have a lot of crops on the dairy farm, like alfalfa and corn for instance, that are not going to tolerate that water being diverted from their production.”
The drought tolerability of sorghum is an attractive attribute of the crop; however, Clarke suggests that in order to achieve optimal production growers will not push that tolerance to its maximum level. Growing sorghum as a dairy forage can also provide more tonnage for the amount of water used compared to other crops. “For every inch of water that corn consumes, you would get maybe one ton of yield; and it can be double that for sorghum,” Clarke noted.
There have been some reservations among dairy farmers as it pertains to sorghum production. One particular concern is related to the varieties available, and there is a lack of understanding of how to best use sorghum in balanced ration nutrition. Nonetheless, growing sorghum as a dairy forage is likely to become even more appealing as water supplies become more regulated under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
“I think that the growers who are sticking with growing sorghum in the San Joaquin Valley are those who are recognizing that the future of their farming operations might be more affected by a lack of available water,” Clarke explained. “They see themselves as being here to stay and know that diversifying their crop portfolio is something that’s going to help them manage available water.”