Sorghum: love it or leave it by Bernie Reppel

Graingrowers across Australia's northern region are being challenged to make money from sorghum by giving the crop the same commitment and care they give to cotton.

If they do so, they could profitably fill what Goondiwindi farmer and consultant Mike Castor describes as "a gaping hole for a summer crop" in rotations in the more marginal country on both sides of the Queensland-NSW border.

The strategy is one of a number of responses to calls for on-farm benefits from sorghum research, supported by growers through the GRDC.

Sorghum scientists are urging growers to make more of existing technology, particularly as the profitability of dryland cotton is tending to push sorghum into more marginal production areas.

Mr Castor, who grows sorghum at Billa Billa (Qld) and Moree (NSW), says the more marginal cropping country offers great opportunity for the crop as it is displaced on the better soils by dryland cotton.

Unfortunately, he says, graingrowers in the region often still see sorghum as a second-rate competitor to wheat.

Even though there is ample technology available for success with sorghum, grower attitudes often are that yields are inconsistent and margins too low, meaning they have not worked the crop into their rotations very well.

"Sorghum is seen as more of an opportunity crop, and that is the wrong strategy; the attitude is that 'if the crop fails, we can always graze it', and that is a cop-out from the beginning," Mr Castor says.

Grower wish list for sorghum

Growers have rated standability — or rather the lack of it, causing sorghum crops to fall over at harvest time — as the most important issue for research.

Next they rank yield optimisation — through better management and adoption of existing technology, and yield reliability under climatic

stress; followed by good pollen production — to minimise ergot infection; nutrition; pesticide drift; in-crop grass weed control; and increased cold tolerance.

On the consumption side, feeders and processors see seed size and uniformity as the most important issue for research. Other concerns are pelletability, gelatinisation, protein consistency, ergot tolerance levels, chemical residues, weathering and increased industrial and food uses for sorghum.

According to the leader of the GRDC-supported sorghum program Bob Henzell, current research is already focused on many of the industry's priorities.

Program 2.3.1 Contact: Mr Bob Henzell 07 4661 2944

Region North