January 4, 2016

Millet is an Alternative to Corn or Sorghum in Northeastern Brazil

Farmers in northeastern Brazil constantly struggle with the dry climate that is common in the region. Many farmers in the region are small family farmers with small livestock operations and scientists from agencies such as Embrapa continue to research ways to improve the farming practices in the region.

A recent report in SoNoticias illustrated the promise of millet for the northern regions of the state of Minas Gerais. Millet is a grass that originated in the Sahel of Africa, which is an area of high temperatures and low rainfall on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Millet does well in this harsh environment and it has become a staple crop for farmers in central Africa.

It is the ability of millet to thrive under hot and dry conditions that led the extension service for the state of Minas Gerais, Emater-MG, to promote it for use by dairy farmers in the region. Millet does well in dry and infertile soil and it requires less rainfall than either corn or sorghum. For each gram of dry matter production, millet requires 300 ml of water compared to 370 ml for corn (23.5% more) and 321 ml for sorghum (7% more). Millet also has the ability to go dormant during periods of dry weather and then to regrow once rainfall returns.

Millet can be used as pasture, green-chop, or silage for dairy and beef cattle. It germinates and grows quickly with adequate moisture and can reach three meters in height and start to be harvested within 90 days. Local dairy farmers are reporting good success with the crop compared to corn or sorghum.

The use of millet is expanding into the dryer cerrado areas of northeastern Brazil and it is another tool that farmers can use to diversify their farming operation. Millet arrived in Brazil in 1929 in Rio Grande do Sul and in northern Minas Gerais in the 1990's. Millet is also used states such as Mato Grosso as a cover crop and green manure during the dry season.