No-tiller rotates around grain sorghum
Oklahoma’s grain sorghum production has increased in recent years, placing the state in the No. 3 spot behind Kansas and Texas. Although northern Oklahoma counties have enjoyed a lot of success with the crop, growth remains stagnant in the southwestern corner of the state, mostly due to cotton production and a hotter summer climate.
Apache grower Alan Mindemann is an exception to that trend. He is director of the Oklahoma Sorghum Commission, and the crop has been an integral part of his rotation since he began his own operation in the mid-1990s.
He has proven with proper management, he can produce a high-yielding crop, even in the hot Southwestern summer. “Our county only averaged 36 bushels per acre because nobody took care of it; it was a stepchild crop,” he says. “I figured I could grow 80 to 100 bushels, if I managed it.”
• Grain sorghum is a strong candidate for a double-crop rotation.
• Dryland yields reached 90 bushels per acre in 2010.
• Oklahoma State University performs research work on the Mindemann farm.
Mindemann farms several thousand acres in Caddo County, and grain sorghum comprises the bulk of that production at nearly 1,000 acres annually. But his production also includes a diverse array of crops, ranging from grains like wheat, corn and sesame to soybeans, peas and beans.
Most of his crops are marketed through his company, Apache Seed Farms, which he uses to retail his seed crops locally, as well as wholesale to grain elevators and large farm operations, but he has also grown seed on contract for seed companies.
His grain sorghum is often double-cropped or rotated with wheat, because it is the easiest way he can work it into his production, and it allows him to take advantage of early planting dates in April.
“If we double-crop grain sorghum, it’s always behind wheat, because wheat is the earliest harvested crop, but it would be possible behind anything that comes off early enough,” he says.
Double-cropping grain sorghum or fitting the crop into rotations increases management each season. One example is row crop spacings, and Mindemann takes advantage of GPS to keep even intervals between rows. Most of his equipment is relatively new, especially his planters, and he rotates to new equipment every four to six years. He recently sold his air seed drill and is awaiting a new one.
“I have to keep top-notch planting equipment on hand because you only have one chance to plant it right,” he says. “If there is anything the planter needs, we rebuild it over the winter.”
It also requires water management, which poses a problem for Mindemann, as his fields don’t have access to irrigation water. Mindemann has found a way around the problem with no-till production, a practice he adopted when he began farming.
He is also a board member of No-Till on the Plains, a nonprofit based in Wamego, Kan., that promotes no-till production across the central and southern Great Plains.
“I will do no tillage. It wastes water, and I need water to grow my crops,” he says.
He may soon ease some of the irrigation difficulties with a new farm that does have access to water. He has not integrated an irrigation system at this point, but is exploring pivot systems for his crops.
Mindemann’s unique operation of no-till grain sorghum has been a value to Oklahoma State University for the past few seasons for variety trials. Mindemann and OSU have built a research partnership, and his farm has been the focus of many studies, including Hessian fly in wheat and insecticide and fertilizer trials.
Rick Kochenower is an OSU grain sorghum specialist and has used Mindemann’s fields for hybrid trials since 2010.
“Farmers like seeing it on their own land and other producers’ land because they’ll know how grain sorghum hybrids will work when grown on similar land in their areas,” Kochenower says.
Current studies are evaluating the performance of new hybrid varieties over older hybrids in southwest Oklahoma when planted in early April.
The crop was lost in 2011, but 2010 provided yields at above 90 bushels per acre, proving no-till grain sorghum is a viable option in southwest Oklahoma. That partnership will continue well beyond the 2012 season, as OSU performs research nearly every year with Mindemann.
“I have an open invitation [for OSU]. If they want to do research on my farm, I will help them, if I have the ability,” he says.
Brazil writes from Carnegie, Okla.
This article published in the June, 2012 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.