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November 25, 2016

Grain Sorghum an Option for Late Planted Safrinha Crop

For many farmers in central Brazil their safrinha corn crop in 2016 was a disaster. Due to a delayed soybean harvest, as much as 40% of the corn was planted after the ideal planting window had closed on February 20th. The late-planted corn ran out of water when the summer rainy season ended earlier than normal in early April and the result was very low corn yields with some corn fields never even harvested.

As an alternative to late-planted safrinha corn, agronomist from Embrapa are promoting the production of grain sorghum as a second crop in central Brazil. They feel grain sorghum offers many advantages including: lower water requirement, greater tolerance to dry weather, lower fertility needs, lower cost of production, and a yield potential nearly equal to that of late planted corn.

Grain sorghum's primary role as a second crop would be when corn planting is delayed. The ideal planting window for safrinha corn in central Brazil closes about February 20th, whereas the planting window for grain sorghum closes about March 10th.

Embrapa scientists feel grain sorghum yields in central Brazil could be as high as 100 sacks per hectare (92 bu/ac), which is equal to or better than late planted corn. The prices for grain sorghum are usually about 90% the price of corn. Therefore, there is less risk from dry weather with grain sorghum and the return on investment could be equal to or better than late planted corn.

Grain sorghum production is still very small in central Brazil compared to safrinha corn. According to figures from Conab, the state of Goias planted 201,000 hectares of grain sorghum in 2015/16 compared to 1,274,00 hectares of safrinha corn. The state of Minas Gerais planted 172,000 hectares of grain sorghum compared to 371,000 hectares of safrinha corn and in the state of Mato Grosso, farmers planted 50,000 hectares of grain sorghum compared to 3,769,000 hectares of safrinha corn. The total 2015/16 acreage of grain sorghum in Brazil was 579,000 hectares compared to 10,534,000 hectares of safrinha corn.

Grain sorghum is primarily used for animal rations, but several sugar/ethanol mills in central Brazil have been retrofitted to utilize corn or grain sorghum to produce ethanol during the summer months when sugarcane is not available.