By: Adam Russell
Contact: Calvin Trostle, [email protected]

Sorghum acres are expected to decrease amid excellent growing conditions because of an ongoing trade dispute, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture prospective plantings report estimated 1.35 million grain sorghum acres to be planted in Texas in 2019. Texas sorghum producers planted 1.55 million acres in 2018 following a USDA projection of 1.6 million acres for the state.

mature sorghum
Concerns regarding the ongoing trade dispute with China could hold down sorghum production despite this year’s excellent growing conditions. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Beth Ann Luedeker)

Trostle said the 13 percent projected decrease is related to the ongoing trade dispute with China. Texas has typically produced around 25 percent of U.S. sorghum exported to China, about $209 million annually.

“Many Texas producers are concerned that the trade dispute could cut up to $1 per bushel off of domestic prices,” he said. “We send so much sorghum to China, the sooner the dispute is resolved the better.”

Trostle said the fact that nearly all the state, including parts of the High Plains that were experiencing drought conditions, have a good, deep soil moisture profile bodes well for growers. He doesn’t want to jinx the 2019 growing season, but said conditions look excellent so far.

Some producers are still hesitant to plant sorghum because of disastrous sugarcane aphid infestations in 2014 and 2015, Trostle said. But he said plant hybrids introduced to combat the pest, earlier planting dates, proper crop monitoring, treatments and beneficial insects have mitigated much of the pest’s impact since.

“Their impact has been sporadic the last few years,” he said. “Around 25 percent of Texas sorghum acres are planted with sugarcane aphid-tolerant varieties and growers are more vigilant in their monitoring. That has reduced their impact to the point some producers believe we have them whipped. But producers still need to be wary because Mother Nature can humble you.”

Trostle said sorghum plants in South Texas have reached at least the six-to-seven leaf stage with some fields flowering. Sugarcane aphids were noted in those fields with a few adults and newborns at low levels.

sugarcane aphids on leaf
Sugarcane aphids have had a much lower impact this year, partially due to producers planting aphid tolerant sorghum varieties. (Texas A&M AgriLife Photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“That’s a dramatic change,” he said. “Probably over half the acres in South Texas were recommended for spraying at this point in 2014.”

Along the Coastal Bend, Trostle said sugarcane aphids have been scouted in Johnsongrass but no reports of the pest in sorghum fields. Most sorghum in Central Texas has emerged, and High Plains sorghum plantings were expected to begin in earnest soon.

“This is one of those one in eight years or one in 10 years that makes farmers eager to get their summer crop in the ground,” he said.