Empirical assessment of grain sorghum resiliency, productivity, and profitability in the southeastern USA

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2024: $399,974.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2027
Grant Recipients: Clemson University; Carolina Seed Systems
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Richard Boyles, III
Clemson University
Dr. Zachary Brenton
Carolina Seed Systems
Dr. Joseph Roberts
Clemson University


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Most states in the southeastern USA report large feed grain
deficits annually because of high animal production, primarily
poultry and swine. Farmland exists to support a larger percentage
of local feed grain production, but 85-90% of this is dryland
production, relying on seasonal rainfall. While the region boasts
high annual precipitation totals, the predominant soil type,
especially in the Atlantic Coastal Plain, is sandy loam or loamy
sand, which has a low water-holding capacity and low organic
matter. Thus, intermittent drought conditions are still prevalent
in the region to restrict grain yields. When climate change in
future years is expected to worsen these factors that hinder crop
productivity, it is irresponsible not to consider modifying
existing cropping systems to make them more resilient,
productive, and profitable.

While agricultural production systems in the southeastern USA are
more diverse than other regions, the crops with highest
production acres are water, nutrient, and management intensive.
Meanwhile, grain sorghum production in the southeastern USA
remains limited to under 100,000 acres. Grain sorghum requires
less water than corn and soybean to produce a bushel of grain.
Just as important, grain sorghum has a unique ability to slow
down maturity to wait for adequate soil moisture. This
physiological adaptation allows sorghum to be less affected by
intermittent drought conditions that are frequently observed
during summer months in the southeastern USA. However, more
empirical evidence that is specifically generated in this region
is desperately needed to inform university extension, crop
consultants, and farmers. Nearly all data generated on sorghum
productivity present in the literature or online comes from the
Great Plains, which is not representative.

This project will determine sorghum’s climate resiliency in the
southeastern USA by quantifying its regional productivity,
water-use efficiency, carbon sequestration potential, and
nematode suppressive ability. These production statistics
generated at four on-farm sites in three states will also be
generated for corn and soybean in the same fields to make a fair
comparison across crops. Further, input costs will be recorded
for these three crops within each farm trial to compare
profitability as well as help build an interactive enterprise
budget for farmers to use for making crop decisions on their
farm. Cooperating farmers in this project will assist in
producing enterprise budgets and review them prior to rollout.

Data generated from the on-farm research trials will be made
publicly available in peer-reviewed publications, online, and
through Extension events, including annual field days at the
on-farm locations. Hosting these field days on-farm and within
three highly underserved communities will encourage attendance
from underrepresented minorities and create a more inclusive,
discussion-based format. Project investigators and cooperating
partners have experience reaching the target audience through
diversified outreach strategies, which will be critical to the
project by ensuring the information generated will reach
stakeholders who can benefit from this research.


This project addresses the SARE sustainability goals to increase
long-term profit, improve health and productivity of farmland,
and enhance quality of life for farmers in underserved

Project objectives from proposal:

  1. Conduct on-farm, multi-crop yield trials to assess sorghum
    productivity in regional cropping systems.
  2. Measure belowground biomass accumulation of sorghum and
    competing crops to assess carbon sequestration potential.
  3. Estimate plot-level water use efficiency of sorghum and other
    row crops by measuring terminal yield and total water inputs.
  4. Monitor nematode population levels in a problematic on-farm
    location before and after sorghum cultivation compared with other
    prevalent broadleaf-cereal crop rotations (g.,
  5. In the multi-crop trials, track variable input costs and
    generate per acre profitability based on yield and various sell
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.