Strong demand and a low cost of production will likely tempt farmers to dedicate a higher number of acres to sorghum this year.
In 2017, U.S. farmers planted 5.3 million acres of sorghum—a 13% drop from 2016. Sorghum area fell hard from 2015 to 2017 as sorghum prices declined by larger amounts than competing crops, according to economists at Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri.
“Since then, sorghum prices have made some gains relative to the other crops allowing some return in acres for 2018, particularly in Texas and Kansas,” 2018 U.S. Baseline Outlook. For the 2018, FAPRI expects U.S. farmers to plant 6.31 million acres.
The biggest concern for farmers this year is drought conditions across the Sorghum Belt, says Tim Lust, National Sorghum Producers CEO.
Last year, Kansas farmers planted nearly 50% of all the acres in the U.S. Texas is the No. 2 sorghum-producing state. Farmers in the Lone Star State planted 1.6 million acres last year. Together, the two states account for around 75% of the country’s sorghum production.
Exceptional drought conditions are currently centered on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and seep into Kansas, per the March 22, 2018 U.S. Drought Monitor.
“South Texas farmers have already started planting grain sorghum, and some of that crop is starting to emerge,” Lust says. “Time will tell what total planted sorghum acres will look like this growing season not only in Texas but across the Sorghum Belt.”
The United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP) is slightly more bullish on 2018 sorghum acres, as it expects a total of 6.7 million acres. That would be an increase of 1 million acres from 2017—a 17% jump. (Read More: Sorghum Acres Will Climb In 2018)
“Sorghum recently hit the 1-billion-bushel mark in exports to China,” says Brent Bean, USCP agronomist. “The export market has remained strong for the past two to three years. We expect the mid-South and even mid-Atlantic states to grow more sorghum this year.”
Average 2016/17 sorghum prices were down 55% from the 2012/13 peak, FAPRI notes. Although some recovery is occurring, lower grain prices keep the average farm price below the reference price every year in the baseline.
“There are many factors affecting prices and decisions across all commodities right now,” Lust says. “In the current political environment, uncertainties related to trade with China are undeniably a factor in our situation.”
Read more pre-report coverage of the 2018 Prospective Plantings report:
Acreage Preview: Cotton To Climb
Acreage Preview: Chip Flory Talks Corn, Soybeans and Wheat
Allendale: Record Soybean Acres in 2018