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Strong Prices, Lower Seed Costs Spur Surge in Sorghum Acres

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Thanks to increased export demand, solid prices and new technology for weed control, U.S. farmers are planting more grain sorghum in 2021.

Total U.S. sorghum acres are projected to reach 6.91 million acres this season, according to the most recent USDA Prospective Plantings Report.

That’s more than 1 million acres above the 5.88 million acres USDA says U.S. farmers planted in 2020, and a 12% increase in acreage over 2019.

Kansas leads the country in sorghum production, with farmers there growing more than half of the total expected acres. USDA says farmers there will plant 3.6 million acres of the crop this year, and acreage could go even higher.

“Stronger cash bids along with stronger new crop 2021 forward contract bids” could encourage more production, according to Jesse McCurry, executive director for the Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association.

On the organizations’ website, they report that Kansas State University expects current marketing year average U.S. farm prices for grain sorghum to be $5.09 per bushel.

The crop has been on an upward production trajectory in Kansas for the past several years. Farmers there grew 3 million acres in 2020 and 2.6 million in 2019.

Strong demand abroad. China continues its reign as the No. 1 buyer of U.S. sorghum. The country “purchased a net 2.6 million bushels of U.S. old-crop grain sorghum in the week ending May 27, along with 5.1 million new-crop...." Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist for StoneX Group, Inc., posted in a Tweet on Friday morning.

McCurry says while China is an important relationship the U.S. will continue to nurture, at the same time it looks to add other export opportunities.

“We have made inroads recently with Vietnam and have had a strong customer in Mexico in previous years,” he says.

Sorghum is valued in the U.S. and abroad for its ability to fit a variety of human and animal food uses.

“It's essentially a neutral ingredient that can be used in all sorts of applications, from food to liquor to ethanol to feed,” McCurry told Chip Flory, AgriTalk host on Thursday. “The Chinese also use it to produce a drink called baijiu and to feed ducks.”

China is the No. 1 producer in the world for duck, harvesting about 5.5 million pounds of duck meat annually. The protein has been increasingly important to the Chinese this past year, with the toll African Swine Fever has taken on the country’s hog herd.

Weed-control options support production. While strong prices are fueling acreage growth, new herbicide-tolerant technologies are adding acres as well.

This year sees the introduction of three, non-genetically modified products: igrowth sorghum, marketed by Advanta, Inzen sorghum, marketed by Corteva/Pioneer and Double Team sorghum, marketed by S&W.

“Farmers have over-the-top weed control options now, and that’s got a lot of guys considering sorghum that hadn’t wanted to grow it previously,” McCurry says.

Along with that, seed costs for sorghum – sometimes one-fourth that of corn – is a factor that farmers often weigh in their production and marketing decisions, he adds.

Brent Bean, Sorghum Checkoff agronomist, notes the cost of seed varies considerably depending on the crop, seeding rate, traits and treatments applied to the seed.

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