Milo faces myriad challenges to its past prominence

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Farmers in Marion County aren?t planting as much milo as they once did.

There appears to be several reasons for milo?s, or grain sorghum?s, decreasing prominence.

Rickey Roberts, the county?s agricultural agent through K-State Extension, and a farmer who asked not to be identified both have insights as to why milo with its drought resistance and feed qualities has lost relative favor.

Roberts said one factor in deciding which crops to plant has to do with prices, and another factor has to do with such things as weed problems.

Last year, ?the prices got so tempting,? Roberts said, that more farmers planted corn and soybeans. This year, wheat prices are higher in response, and more acres went into wheat.

?It?s an economics decision, and not one necessarily to do with rotation,? he said.

Another reason milo has declined in production in the past several years, Roberts said, is because soybeans are a leguminous nitrogen fixing plant that doesn?t require currently high-priced nitrogen fertilizers.

Another reason is shattercane, a sorghum related to milo that begins in fields under continuous milo production. Roberts said farmers are rotating out of milo to get rid of the shattercane.

But that brings up another big reason farmers are rotating out of milo, he added. Genetic engineering has enabled varieties of corn and soybeans that are resistant to damage by Roundup herbicide and its generic versions. The weeds hit by Roundup die, and the herbicide is neutralized when it hits the ground.

Farmers are enabled to have weed-free fields with corn and soybeans, and ?milo is just not that way,? Roberts said. ?It?s hard to have a clean field with it.?

The area farmer agreed with Roberts? reasons for the decline of milo, but added a few other assessments.

He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program has also contributed to a decline in milo because the CRP lands, for which farmers were paid to plant to native grasses, were poorer ground, where milo had been grown because it can grow on poorer soils than corn and soybeans. As a result, milo acres declined, he said.

?Perhaps it was ground that never should have been broken out in the first place.?

This area also has escaped severe droughts for the last several years, he added. ?A drought year could bring a resurgence in milo acreage because it is a more drought-resistant plant.?

Researchers at Kansas State support this contention, saying that in severe drought, corn, which is dependent on tassels on the top cross-pollinating through the silks of ears in the center, may suffer sufficient damage for empty ears to be produced.

The self-pollinating milo has the ability to wait through drought for the next rain, and even to tiller out for new heads.

The milo leaves also have a waxy coating that loses moisture to the atmosphere more slowly than corn leaves do.

Curiously, the same factors that enable milo to resist dry weather also enable the plant to tolerate soggy soil, researchers said.

The development of ethanol plants for fuel help milo producers, the farmer said. He added that milo helps the ethanol producers avoid politics because the public regards milo as animal feed, not a human food like corn.

The public doesn?t understand, he said, that some of the ground could go unplanted if not used for ethanol because the price incentive to plant it would no longer exist.

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