UNL TAPS into sorghum

UNL TAPS program has been exploring new approaches to better sorghum yields.

Sorghum has been the focus of a UNL Testing Ag Performance Solutions contest for the last two years.

The TAPS program tests marketing, water efficiency and yield on 10 trial farms including one run by a UNL educator. The exercise was overseen by UNL Water and Cropping Systems Extension Educator Chuck Burr at the West Central Research and Extension Center near North Platte.

“We saw some pretty interesting producer decisions,” Burr said. “I think the participants learned a lot about their strengths and weaknesses.”

Each contestant used the same budget as determined by the Nebraska Crop Budget formula, he said. They were assigned the same rates for crop insurance, nitrogen application, seed costs and irrigation costs.

The most profitable farm was judged by the producer’s marketing decisions, made on a web-based farm. This was somewhat of a different method for UNL, Burr said. Competitors were encouraged to look over the results from each farm.

“We really stress peer-to-peer engagement for the marketing approach,” Burr said. “The actual farming methods are kept in strict confidence.”

The most water efficient plots were judged by calculation yield versus no water and no nitrogen on a control field. The TAPS panel measured water efficiency and nitrogen absorption.

“Some of the producers put on very little water, some put on 2 ¼ inches,” Burr said. “It had been pretty wet growing season, so not a lot needed.”

Nitrogen applications ranged from 70 pounds to 225 pounds. The higher range was to some extent overkill, he said. All of the producers used good seeding rates.

The top two producers were Mike Baker and Ron Robinson. Burr said he thought Baker had demonstrated “very good management.” Both farmers used just 60/100 of an inch of water. The main difference was in nitrogen application. Baker used 150 pounds and Robinson used 140 pounds.

Baker had the highest yield at about 170 bushels an acre. According to the Nebraska Sorghum Board, the Nebraska average for sorghum is 106 bushels per acre between irrigated and dryland. This was baker’s third year in the TAPS program. He has been participating in the sorghum trials for the last two sessions.

“I actually thought I could do better than I did,” Baker said. “But taking into account the lack of heat units, it was about right.”

This year, Baker decided to try something different. He went with less fertilizer than the soil test recommended.

“I farm similar to the way I did the previous TAPS plot, maybe a bit more fertilizer,” he said. “That’s what’s so great about TAPS. It gives you the opportunity to try different things; to think outside the box.”

Baker said initially he was reluctant to give TAPS a shot. His biggest concern was how the information was disseminated.

“I found they were very confidential in the way they handle the data and the results,” he said.

Now, he actually recruits fellow producers to participate.

“It’s a great program,” Baker said. “It benefits the university and the producers learn a lot. I am planning to use some of these methods this season on my own crops.”

Jon Burleson can be reached at jon.burleson@lee.net.