When the skies above the western Kansas plains are feeling generous, there’s no better time to be a dryland farmer.
And there’s no better crop to take advantage of it than sorghum.
That’s what led Ki Gamble, of Kiowa County, Kansas, to bet big on his family’s sorghum fields of Pioneer 85P44 this spring after a surprisingly wet winter. They repaid him handsomely, with his son Kasey’s field cresting 244.03 bushels per acre (bpa), earning him the top Bin Buster yield in the 2021 National Sorghum Yield Contest — as well as the highest dryland yield in contest history west of the Mississippi River.
The Gambles dominated the western dryland no-till category of the contest. Gamble’s daughter Katelynn Alderfer landed second behind Kasey, with a field of 85P44 that hit 237.39 bpa, and Ki finished third with the same variety in a field that reached 228.17 bpa.
Topping the contest’s irrigated entries was Tom Vogel of Hartley County, Texas, who pushed a field of Pioneer 85P75 to 241.18 bpa, winning the irrigated western category. Overall, it was a good year for participants of the contest, now in its 36th year, with one of the highest yield averages among the winners, said Jennifer Blackburn, vice president of communications for the National Sorghum Producers, which sponsors the contest.
See the top yields of First Place winners of each category here:
- First Place: Tom Vogel, of Hartley County, Texas, 241.18 bpa, with Pioneer 85P75
DRYLAND NO-TILL WESTERN
- First Place: Kasey Gamble, of Kiowa County, Kansas, 244.03 bpa, with Pioneer 85P44
- First Place: Mike Scates, of White County, Illinois, 182.24 bpa with Pioneer 84G62
DRYLAND TILLAGE EASTERN
- First Place: Harry P. Johnston, of Fulton County, Pa., 221.5 bpa, with Pioneer 84G62
DRYLAND TILLAGE WESTERN
- First Place: David Knoll, of Charles Mix County, SD, 170.21 bpa with Pioneer 89Y79
DRYLAND NO-TILL EASTERN
- First Place: Chris Santini, of Warren County, NJ, 234.90 bpa with Pioneer 84G62
While these numbers dwarf the crop’s national average yield of 73 bpa, they are no surprise to Gamble.
“It seems there has been a generic approach to growing milo, and yields have not been pushed as they have in corn and soybeans, with more aggressive or extra inputs,” Gamble said. Sorghum does come with some special agronomic challenges, such as weed control, but it responds to careful, intensive management well, he added.
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“It’s a challenging crop to grow, and we enjoy challenges,” he said.
The Gambles’ contest-topping field started off the year with an unusually excellent soil moisture profile running 6 feet deep. “So, I rolled the dice and fertilized my contest acres like irrigated production would be fertilized,” Gamble recalled.
“It’s also the first year we ever sprayed fungicide on our milo, because of the yield potential and price.” They also sprayed for headworms, and then Mother Nature delivered the final, winning hand — 10 to 12 inches of rain in July and August, half of his region’s annual average, Gamble said.
“Those three fields of milo never once showed stress all summer long,” he recalled.
The fields were bursting with berries, he added.
“It was not uncommon to see plants with seven tillers, and every tiller head was as big as the main head,” Gamble said. “You could not even see the 30-inch rows — it looked like drilled milo.”
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
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