Results of the 2019 National Sorghum Producers Yield Contest were released recently and, once again, no-tilled sorghum continues to be competitive with conventionally tilled sorghum in most cases.

The annual contest now divides entries into “East” and “West” divisions, with sub-categories for dryland and irrigated systems and no-till and tillage systems. The highest two overall yields came from the tilled, dryland category hailing from New Jersey (212 bushels per acre) and Missouri (209).

But no-tilled dryland sorghum in the East region (206.80) and no-till irrigated in the East (206.18) both came from the same county as the top tilled yield, and were competitive overall with tilled sorghum.

Averaging out the first-place yield winners for dryland and irrigated sorghum, no-tilled sorghum logged 192 bushels an acre and tilled sorghum clocked in at 197 bushels.

Taking the first, second and third-place yield results for the national entries, the average yield for no-tilled dryland sorghum was 185 bushels, and dryland tilled was 181 bushels. The average no-tilled irrigated category was 165 bushels, while for tilled and irrigated sorghum it was 193.

Looking at the dryland sorghum category for all the state winners across the U.S.:

  • Dryland no-till East winners averaged 142.6 bushels an acre, while dryland tilled East winners averaged 150.9 bushels.
  • Dryland no-till West state winners averaged 141.9 bushels, while dryland tilled West winners averaged 132.4 bushels. Obviously, there are dozens of factors that can impact yields besides tillage systems and water supply. But interestingly, none of the irrigated plots could beat the highest no-tilled dryland figure, although some were close.

While some of the yield gaps are noticeable, that certainly doesn’t factor in potential expenses involved with extra equipment, fuel and labor for tilling fields. These results also don’t factor in the long-term cost of soil erosion and loss of organic matter in sorghum fields that are being tilled.

In the semi-arid southern Plains, I think this shows no-tilled sorghum is just as competitive as tilled, and often even more so.