Profitable forage systems: Is double cropping BMR sorghum followed by a winter grain a viable cropping system alternative in the Northeast?

2013 Annual Report for ONE13-181

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,840.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Janice Degni
Cornell Cooperative Extension

Profitable forage systems: Is double cropping BMR sorghum followed by a winter grain a viable cropping system alternative in the Northeast?


Objectives/Performance Targets

This SARE project chronicled 4 farm’s experience with bmr-sorghum, a warm season crop. It was followed by a winter grain to maximize production. We had 4 cooperator farms that grew and harvested the sorghum and planted the small grain cover crop. We will evaluate whether this cropping combination is cost effective with consistent performance, adequate yield and feed quality.

This project allowed us to gain experience with a crop that has not been grown traditionally in the Northeast. Sorghum appears to be a reasonable substitute for corn silage offering similar yields, at a lower cost and an equally efficient harvest as a single chop system that can substitute for corn silage with nearly the same nutrition.


Case Studies

Sorghum was established on each farm and observed and documented for the growing season under the conditions of each farm in South Central NY State. Three of the sites were managed conventionally and one site organically

The Dawson site was located in the town of Homer, Cortland County. The 5.3 ac field comprised of Chippewa channery silt loam, a poorly drained soil, and Mardin channery silt loam, a moderately well drained soil.   The sorghum was planted June 5, 2013 with a conservation drill on 28 inch rows. Sorghum variety AF7201, treated with concep™, was planted at 10 lb/ac. To prepare the field for planting it was disked three times and rolled. Two hundred pounds of 19-19-19 fertilizer was broadcast with 190 lbs of urea and disked in before planting. For weed control 1 quart of atrazine and oil and 4 oz of Yukon herbicides were applied on July 12. The soil pH was 5.9 with low phosphorus and medium potassium levels. The previous crop was corn silage.

The Birdsall site was located in the town of Scott, Cortland County. The 4.3 ac field is comprised of Bath channery silt loam, a well-drained soil. Sorghum AF7201, treated with concep™ was planted on June 5 with a no-till drill on 7” rows. The previous crop was corn silage. One hundred lbs of 19-19-19 fertilizer was broadcast and disked in before planting. Additional nitrogen sidedress was planned but was not applied because weather conditions did not allow. The herbicides; atrazine and oil at 1 qt/ac and 4 oz of Banvel were applied for weed control on July 12. The soil pH was 5.8 with high phosphorus and potassium levels.

The Tuning site was managed organically. The 3 ac field comprised of the poorly drained, Volusia channery silt loam soil is located in Cincinnatus, Cortland County. Prior to planting the grass sod was moldboard plowed and disked 2 times to prepare the seedbed. Untreated sorghum seed, variety AF7201 was planted on June 25 at 15 lbs/ac. The sorghum was drilled on 30” rows to allow for mechanical weed control. An estimated 5 tons of dairy cow manure was spread on the field to augment fertility. The field was tine weeded shortly after planting and cultivated 10 days later. The soil pH was 5.4 with low phosphorus and high potassium levels.

The Stow site, was located in the Town of Breesport, Chemung County. The 20 ac field is comprised of a Chenango channery silt loam, a well-drained soil. The field was planted to forage sorghum in 2012. The field was moldboard plowed and disked. Sorghum variety AF7101, treated with concep™, was planted at 100,080 seeds/ac with an International Harvester 900 air planter. One hundred lbs per acre of urea was applied pre-plant and 300 lbs of 10-20-20 at planting. The herbicides; Prowl and Atrazine at 1 quart per acre each were applied early post-emergence for weed control.

After the fields were harvested, samples were collected and submitted for testing forage quality.  The field harvest data has been collected.  It will be reviewed and published in the final report. 


Two regional twilight meetings were held to show the crop in season and discuss the establishment practices and observations of the crop during the growing season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Impacts & Outcomes will be summarized in the Final Project Report.

The growing season offered many challenges.  Planting got off to a great start in May, but we were plagued by heavy rains by the end of the month that lasted through June.  The wet conditions affected the stand at Dawsons.  It delayed weed control at Birdsall and Dawsons and cultivation for Tuning.  A nitrogen treatment for Birdsall was abandoned because we couldn’t travel on the field.  We had a heat wave that persisted about 3 weeks and then a significant cool down.  Night temperatures were sometimes in the 60’s and lower.  Sorghum likes it hot and dry.  The cool night temperatures will shock the plant or temporarily shut it down.  We confirmed that sorghum does not do well on our upland hill soils with poorer drainage.  Sorghum does not like wet ground.  It is much better suited to droughty ground.  Even though we selected a short season variety, it is still on the edge for our region, depending on the conditions during the growing season.  We did try two experimental varieties at the Stow site.  They were brachitic dwarfs but a slightly longer season.  The brachitic dwarfs are shorter and tend not to fall over.  Sorghum in all the fields went down which complicates harvest and causes field loss.  Although the dwarfs are shorter, they are a stockier plant so their is equivalent yield.

Another interesting hurdle that we encountered was having a crop with different needs on small acreage when you are reliant on custom operators.  We were going to use custom operators for weed control.  Custom operators in the area are set up to spray corn, and most of that roundup ready.  The sorghum required different herbicides and roundup would kill the crop.  Between the complications that the weather caused, mostly delay in allowing applicators to get their work done so they were terribly backed up, they could not switch gears to accomodate small acreage scattered around the county.  This is an important detail to sort out before growing an alternative crop.


Dennis Birdsall
beef farmer
Birdsall Beef
143 Ripley Hill Road
Homer, NY 13077
Office Phone: 6077495106
Carlton Dawson

Dawson-Streeter Holsteins
6008 Dawson Road
Cortland, NY 13045
Office Phone: 6077537678
Dave Stow

2 Hill Vale Drive
Horseheads, NY 14845
Jason Tuning
2349 Stafford Rd.
Cincinnatus, NY 13040
Office Phone: 6078634066