by Chaunce Stanton, Marketing Manager
and Margaret Smith, PhD, Forage Agronomist

Winter-killed alfalfa, prolonged drought, or flooding can require the quick establishment of annual grasses (like those in the sorghum family) for emergency forage. They grow quickly during the warm summer months and can produce tons of biomass. But there are other benefits to these warm-weather crops that recommend them for non-emergency forage applications.


Thanks to improved Brown Mid-Rib (BMR) hybrids, sorghums are giving corn silage a run for its money. The BMR-6 gene results in lower lignin content in the throughout the plant and  higher digestibility than non-BMR hybrids. BMR is available in select organic Viking forage sorghums, sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, and now for the first time, in an organic Viking sudangrass hybrid.

With a flexible planting window of mid-May through early July in southern Minnesota, sorghums can even give growers in some areas enough time to first harvest a winter cereal grain for silage, resulting in an economical, efficient on-farm feed production.

Sorghums’ natural characteristics make them a strong rotation option for organic dairy and beef operations. For example, their roots produce a natural biofumigant that’s toxic to corn rootworm larvae, so they can be planted after corn to help break rootworm infestations. Thanks to their quick establishment in warm soils, they quickly outcompete weeds, so only normal cultivation is required in row-planted forage sorghums until their biomass muscles out competitors. Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids and sudangrass, drilled or broadcast, need no weed management passes.


Forage Sorghum (aka “Sweet Sorghum”)

Tall and late-maturing, forage sorghums have sweet, juicy stems.

Recommended Hybrids:

Viking 401 BMR Forage Sorghum (Untreated)

Viking 401 BMR forage sorghum is a hybrid forage sorghum with the BMR 6 trait and a medium-early maturity. A sweet sorgo type, Viking 401 BMR can reach 18-21% soluble sugar content at early heading stage. Plants won’t produce seed if isolated from other sorghums by one mile.

• Best used for silage or baleage

• Yields from 18-25 tons at 65% DM

• Reduced lignin trait can equal the production of corn

• 7 to 8 feet tall with stalks and leaves similar in size to corn; will head out but not produce seed

• Does well on dryland or irrigated fields but requires one-third less water than corn

Viking 400 BMR Forage Sorghum

Viking 400 BMR is a hybrid forage sorghum with the BMR 6 trait and a medium-early maturity. A sweet sorgo type, Viking 400 BMR can reach 18-21% soluble sugar content at early heading stage. Plants won’t produce seed if isolated from other sorghums by one mile.

• Best used for silage or baleage

• Yields from 18-25 tons at 65% DM

• Reduced lignin trait can equal the production of corn

• 7 to 8 feet tall with stalks and leaves similar in size to corn; will head out but not produce seed

• Does well on dryland or irrigated fields but requires one-third less water than corn


Sorghum-Sudangrass Hybrids

Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids are a good combination of quality, yield, and versatility.

Recommended Hybrids:

Organic Viking 230 BMR Sorghum-Sudangrass

Organic Viking 230 BMR Sorghum-Sudangrass has reduced internode length, creating a very compact, leafy and prolific plant. However, it will yield with the taller sorghum-sudangrass hybrids due to the standability and tillering attributes of the Brachytic dwarf trait. Producers will have the best of both worlds: excellent forage qualities with help from BMR-6 and a dependable, high-yielding feedstock. A fast-growing, highly productive, multi-cut, annual hybrid cross between forage sorghum and sudangrass that is perfect for summer forage. High planting rates result in fine stems that dry easier with increased quality. Protein of 9-14%, but less energy than corn silage because it lacks grain.

  • Brachytic dwarf for maximum leaf area and standability
  • Gene 6 BMR variety
  • High sugar content and palatability
  • Late Maturity

Viking 200 BMR Sorghum-Sudangrass

Viking 200 BMR Sorghum-Sudangrass contains the brown mid-rib (BMR) 6 gene for digestibility and a fine, sweet stalk for high palatability. Producers will have the best of both worlds: excellent forage qualities with help from BMR-6 and a dependable, high-yielding feedstock. A fast-growing, highly productive, multi-cut, annual hybrid cross between forage sorghum and sudangrass that is perfect for summer forage. BMR (Gene 6) reduces lignin for improved digestibility and daily gain

  • Fine, sweet stalk for high palatability
  • Tillers profusely and has dry stalk trait for quick dry-down
  • First cut in 40 – 50 days (boot or pre-boot stage)

Sudangrass

More compact than its other sorghum counterparts, sudangrass produces finer stalks, more leaves, and more tillers than forage sorghum.

Recommended Hybrids:

Organic Viking 500 Sudangrass

Organic Viking 500 Sudangrass is the first BMR-6, brachytic dwarf hybrid sudangrass to hit the market. The BMR-6 gene adds high digestibility to a plant that has very fine stems and tremendous re-growth. The brachytic dwarf trait adds a much tighter distance between internodes, allowing for a lower cutting/grazing height and better standability. The dry stalk trait allows for quick dry down, making this one of the most versatile forage products available.

  • Brachytic dwarf trait provides stout stalks for excellent standability
  • Excellent for dry hay and rotational grazing
  • Dry stalk for quick dry down
  • Exceptional re-growth
  • Gene 6 BMR for high digestibility

Piper Sudangrass

Piper Sudangrass is an annual grass with finer stems and higher quality compared to sorghum- sudangrass and forage sorghum, but typically it will yield less (3-5 tons/acre dry).

  • Coarser than Japanese millet
  • Grows 4’ to 7’ tall
  • Best uses are hay, grazing, green chop, silage, or baleage
  • Use multi-cut system or managed grazing for best quality
  • Harvest 6” above ground for excellent regrowth potential
  • Likes hot weather
  • Quality and energy significantly reduced after heading

If you have questions about sorghum for forage, please contact us at (800) 352-5247 to speak with one of our forage agronomists.

RESOURCES CITED IN THIS ARTICLE

Emergency Forages: Sudangrass, Sorghum, and Hybrids. Monica Jean & James Isleib, Michigan State University Extension

Forage Sorghum. PennState Extension

Sorghums, Sudangrasses, and Sorghum-Sudangrass Hybrids for Forage. Dan Undersander & Woody Lane, University of Wisconsin Extension

Sorghum and Sudangrass Have Their Place. Dan Wiersma & Ev Thomas. Hoard’s Dairyman

Sorghum x Sudangrass, a Real ‘Slump Buster’. Mike Estadt, Ohio State University Extension

Sorghum-Sudangrass Hybrids from Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd Edition. Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education

Sudan/Sorghum Forage Management, Fact Sheet BL-50. Brian Lang, Iowa State University Extension

Sudangrass. Purdue University

What are the Do’s and Don’ts of Growing Forage Sorghum? Dr. Jeff Dahlberg, UC-ANR Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Dairy Herd Management