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How to farm sorghum

By Alex Wachira
A sorghum farmer attends to his crop at his farm in Muhoroni Kisumu county on May 18th, 2018. (Collins Oduor, Standard).

 

Sorghum is regarded as one of the most versatile crops.

Sorghum can be boiled like rice, ground for flour used to make porridge, brewing beer, baked into bread, popped like popcorns or used as fodder when young and growing, hay, or silage.

Sorghum plays an important role in food security especially in semi-arid lands of Kenya as it can survive drought conditions.

Sorghum is adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions and produces significant yields under conditions that are unfavorable to most other cereals.

According to info net biovision.org, sorghum is well adapted to drought and also tolerates waterlogging.

However, it is a hot semi-arid areas crop, that requires rainfall from 420 mm to 900 mm annually where it performs best.

According to online publication, information cradle, Sorghum has a well-developed rooting system and an ability to roll up its leaves during hot, dry weather decreasing the transpiration rate.

Sorghum can be grown in a wide range of soils but does well in fertile well-drained heavy clay soils, light sandy soils with a soil PH of 5.0 to 8.5.

Sorghum is resistant and tolerant to salinity and poor soils where it can still produce grain.

The crop does well in altitudes below 1500m and temperatures between 15 to 35 degrees Celsius states Green Life Crop Protection Africa.

Sorghum is normally grown from seeds which are usually broadcasted or sown directly into a furrow after plowing.

Germination occurs within 5-7 days after sowing.

Seedlings are grown in a nursery before being transplanted into the field early in the dry season.

Dry planting is highly recommended with a planting depth of 5 cm but planting in moist soils.

Row spacing is done at 45 to 75 cm and plants spaced at 15 to 20 cm.

Sorghum varieties are grown in Kenya as listed by Green Life Crop Protection Africa include: Seredo, KARI/Mtama1, Mtama 2, Gadam, E6518, E1291, Ikinyaruka, IS76, and BJ28.

The two improved varieties grown in Kenya as highlighted by informationcradle.com are Dobbs which matures in four months and Serena which matures in three months.

The most marketable variety according to Kuza Biashara is the Gadam variety that matures in four months, is tolerant to diseases and is an excellent source for alcohol malt.

E6518 is suitable for fodder while the EI291, Ikinyaruka, and BJ28 are suitable for both food and fodder notes Farm Biz Africa.

Organic farm manure is usually used, with fertilizer being applied rarely.

Compost manure improves the organic matter content of the soil, soil moisture retention ability, and the soil structure.

Intercropping can be done with grain legumes such as beans, cowpeas, pigeon peas and green gram which is highly recommended.

Weeding should also be done to prevent soil nutrients, water, sunlight competition and prevent pests and diseases.

Sorghum is usually harvested by hand when it has reached full maturity at three to four months, it is then sun-dried and threshed before storing the grain.

For large scale farming, combine harvesters are used.

Common pests that attack sorghum according to Green Life Crop Protection Africa include cutworms, storage pests such as weevils, flour beetle, grain moth, birds, shoot fly, armyworm, bollworm, stem borer, head bugs, aphid, midge, cutworms, and termites.

Pests can be controlled by drying the grain adequately before storage, scarecrow for birds, intercropping and spraying pesticides

Diseases that affect sorghum growing to entail damping off, mildew disease, leaf blight, anthracnose, Sooty stripe, loose smut, and head smut.

The diseases are controlled by growing improved varieties and seed dressing which also adds longer shelf life.

Information cradle notes that sorghum can be grown again after harvesting the grain reducing the farmers' cost of replanting and land preparation.

If the crop is meant for seed production, harvesting should be done at the maturity stage while that meant for fodder should be cut when still green and fresh.

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