Cover Story: Alta Seeds Forage Sorghum

Published on Tue, 02/03/2015 - 4:58pm

Adaptive, water-efficient sorghum produces high tonnage and excellent feed value

Across the country, cattlemen are discovering the next generation of forage sorghum hybrids can beat corn with high tonnage, digestibility, palatability and, most importantly, less water use and lower production costs. Cattlemen looking to improve their forage needs are turning to sorghum for its ability to produce valuable, high-quality feed that is efficient to grow.

“Sorghum fits in very well for cattlemen looking for a forage that uses less water and less fertilizer,” says Chuck Grimes, a forage management consultant from Ulysses, Kansas. “It’s more timely, more heat resistant and works especially well for producers in areas with limited water.”

According to research from Texas A&M University, irrigated forage sorghum will yield 1.75 to 2.5 tons of biomass per inch of irrigated water, while corn produces less than 1.0 ton per inch of water applied. Because of its high water use efficiency and tolerance to prolonged periods without rain or irrigation, sorghum is ideally suited for cattlemen facing water availability obstacles.

“A lot of the livestock producers I work with have to consider how much water they are going to have available to grow a crop,” Grimes says. “Recent droughts have made growing corn silage much more of a challenge and certainly more expensive. I’ve seen a growing trend of forage sorghum replacing corn due to its ability to produce a dependable feedstuff with considerably less water and lower costs.”

Grimes says the dependability of forage sorghum makes planning easier because its adaptive nature and drought tolerance produces a consistent crop cattlemen can count on.

“Season after season we’ve seen great performance from forage sorghum,” Grimes says. “It does well in wet years with plenty of rain and it really shines in dry years. The fact that you can get nearly the same tonnage as corn silage with half the water requirement makes sorghum a great alternative.”

With rising energy costs and water conservation concerns across the United States, the high water-use-efficiency of sorghum offers a viable economic and sustainable alternative to corn. Sorghum tolerates significant moisture stress and will resume vegetative growth after drought-induced dormancy. Sorghum also has a very large and extensive root system capable of reaching soil profile depths of more than five feet. This large and efficient root system enables the sorghum plant to find water when other crops cannot.

Grimes says many of his forage growers have converted to raising BMR forage sorghum. The lignin content of BMR sorghum is lower than conventional sorghum for improved palatability and digestibility. “I’ve worked with several customers who have opted to feed only BMR forage sorghum for a season and they were able to cut their costs without sacrificing rate of gain,” Grimes says. “Even on dry land, we’ve produced great tonnage with forage sorghum.”
Grimes strongly recommends planting sorghum silage hybrids with the Brachytic & BMR-6 traits due to their high palatability, nutritive value and excellent standability.

“You get lots of structural carbohydrates and good nutritional value with the BMRs,” Grimes says. “It’s remarkable how the reduced lignin content of the BMR forage sorghum improves ruminant stability. BMR-6 sorghums are a great forage option with roughly 50 percent less lignin than conventional sorghums for forage.”

“Several of my customers have grown Alta Seeds AF7401 forage sorghum which has the brachytic dwarf trait and that is the hybrid I recommend the most often. It has a shorter stature, it doesn’t lodge, it’s very leafy and puts on a good grain head. I’ve seen the AF7401 after strong winds come through and it really holds up well.”

High-Quality Feed
Nutritionists Grant Stoltzfus and David Craun work for Renaissance Nutrition in Virginia. They consult with a number of beef and dairy cattle customers who have made the switch from corn silage to forage sorghum.

When a customer came to him recently with the idea of growing forage sorghums for his herd, Stoltzfus was excited about the opportunity to test and learn more about the crop. He was initially unsure how well forage sorghum would work, but now he feels comfortable recommending it to his customers.

“I’ve been very satisfied with the performance and I would say definitely consider it,” Stoltzfus says. “When looking at the nutritional analysis of BMR forage sorghum, it tends to run higher in protein, and starch levels are comparable to corn silage. I looked at the NDF (neutral detergent fiber) digestibility and it was very similar to good corn silage. The cow performance while feeding forage sorghum has been excellent.”

Craun says, in his service area, obtaining quality corn silage is usually a challenge and he and his customers are seeing superior results with forage sorghum versus corn silage.

“I narrow down the forage sorghum to three primary advantages,” Craun says. “You get an economical cost per ton, the performance matches up well with corn silage diets and consistency is very dependable. Year-in and year-out, we know what we’re going to be dealing with when it comes to forage sorghum.”

Craun’s customers plant Alta Seeds brand forage sorghum and he recommends it to customers who are considering alternatives to corn silage. “Where we’ve planted the Alta Seeds forage sorghum, we’ve seen consistency as far as quality, but we’ve also seen good tonnage, even in drought stricken areas. That’s the biggest advantage to forage sorghum — whether it’s a dry year or a wet year, we’re still seeing results,” Craun says. “It’s a winner all the way around for the cows, for the producer and for the nutritionist.”

Committed to Growers
Alta Seeds is providing growers with high performance hybrids and unique genetics to help growers deal with the drought-like conditions that have troubled various areas of the United States. Cattlemen across the country have been adding Alta Seeds sorghum to their forage plans so that they are prepared for drought. Planting forage sorghum, sorghum-sudangrass or sudangrass will provide forage alternatives that produce even in dry conditions.

Alta Seeds is the premium brand of Advanta, a global supplier of proprietary crop genetics. Advanta is committed to providing its customers with the best seed and service possible.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about our customer base and how to serve them best,” says Steve Ligon, North American business director for Advanta. “Our forage customers are usually looking for a water-efficient and cost-efficient product that will provide high tonnage and excellent nutritional quality. Our Alta Seeds hybrids fit those needs very well. We work hard to provide solutions that can create real value and impact for our customers.”

Headquartered in Amarillo, Texas, Advanta has more than 50 years of producing seed deep in the heart of sorghum country.Advanta understands the challenges associated with drought because it deals with the same issues as growers every day.

“We are working on ways to maximize yield for farmers when water is limited,” Ligon says. “The use of the water and the efficiency of the water is critical in these situations. As we move forward, we expect water for agricultural production to become less abundant and more costly, so the need for water-efficient crops like sorghum will continue to grow.”

Next Generation Genetics
Advanta is focused on developing cutting edge solutions in sorghum seed through its Alta Seeds brand. Modern forage sorghum genetics have come a long way in recent years. Advanta introduced the first sorghum hybrids with the Brachytic Dwarf gene under the Alta Seeds brand.

There are four dwarfing genes in sorghum which control height. These genes produce a type of dwarfism known as “Brachytic Dwarfism”, which reduces the length of the internodes without affecting other agronomic plant characteristics, such as leaf number, leaf size, maturity or yield/biomass production. Brachytic Dwarf sorghums typically grow to about six feet tall and produce comparable tonnage to taller hybrids by producing more leaves and more tillers. Sorghums with this trait have very high leaf-to-stalk ratios, prolific tillering, superior standability and comparable tonnage to normal height sorghums.

Ben Beyer leads the development of the Alta Seeds breeding program and its industry leading research of elite sorghum gemplasm. As the US sorghum breeder for Advanta, Beyer is working to bring new hybrids with high yield and unique characteristics to the market.

“The Brachytic Dwarf trait was a huge development,” says Ben Beyer, Advanta sorghum breeder. “Brachytic hybrids solved the issue of hybrids that would lodge due to reduced lignin content from BMR-6 genetics. By combining the standability of the Brachytic Dwarf gene with the high nutritional value of BMR-6 genetics, we are able to provide cattlemen with a forage that is very competitive with corn in the field and in the feed bunk.”

Advanta is leading the development of the next wave of breakthroughs in the forage sorghum market to provide growers with the products they need to succeed. In addition to launching Brachytic forage sorghum, Advanta is continually working to bring cutting-edge advancements in sorghum breeding to growers. In 2013, it introduced the first and only hybrid with the Brachytic Dwarf, BMR-6 and Drystalk traits.

The dry stalk characteristic reduces crop moisture in sorghum and sudangrass. Forage sorghum hybrids with this trait allow growers to ensile the harvested crop at reduced moisture levels with less opportunity for spoilage. When harvested at the soft dough stage, forage sorghums with the dry stalk characteristic have approximately 64 percent to 69 percent moisture content.

“We’re always looking for new ways we can bring efficiency and productivity to customers,” Beyer says. “Our breeding program is growing and we’re committed to developing useful advancements that provide meaningful results on the farm. Currently, these efforts include research and breeding for drought tolerance, cold tolerance, herbicide tolerance and enhanced water-use efficiency.”

The Alta Seeds product line-up offers a range of forage sorghum options for farmers, ranchers and cattlemen seeking a lower-cost, high quality alternative to corn silage Beyer says. “Whether it’s an irrigated or dryland farming operation, sorghum’s adaptive nature, high production efficiency, and versatility make it a valuable tool and the best choice for cattlemen demanding a reliable crop that produces high-quality feed.”

For more information about forage sorghum, visit to review the Sorghum for Forage field guide, or call 877-806-7333 to talk with an Alta Seeds customer service representative.