Will last year’s widespread problems with the sugarcane aphid impact sorghum acreage in 2016?

Will last year’s widespread problems with the sugarcane aphid impact sorghum acreage in 2016?

“A few guys may hold off on growing it, or they might have to pencil in an extra application for what it will cost them to grow it,” said Brent Bean, agronomist on staff with the United Sorghum Check-off. “We may see farmers back off a bit. But we learned a lot about how to manage it last year.”

“I don't think the sky’s falling on sorghum,” said Terry Swanson, a farmer-rancher from Walsh who serves on the National Sorghum Producers board of directors.

He compares the aphid to other pest problems sorghum growers have overcome in the past.

“Greenbugs were a problem in sorghum at one time, but they ran their course,” he said. “They haven’t gone away completely, but they ceased to be an economic issue. As with all pests, they come and go.”

Sorghum doesn’t have many competing crops to fill its rotational niche across the High Plains. “Very few crops are as drought tolerant as sorghum, and that’s one of the biggest reasons it’s popular,” Swanson said.

Longtime agronomist Rick Kochenower agrees, saying he doesn’t expect future sorghum acreage to change much.

“Two years ago now in South Texas (which is where the pest originated) there were people thinking this would be the end of sorghum in South Texas, but last year there was more sorghum planted than at anytime in the previous 10 years,” Kockenower said.

After attending regional trade shows and two sorghum production education meetings in Salina and Dodge City, he was optimistic.

“In the last few days, I’ve had farmers tell me they’re not scared of it, they feel like they learned how to handle it last year,” he said. “They are planning to grow the same acres they did last year.”

Kockenower believes 2015 will probably end up being an outlier in terms of how far and fast the aphids spread.

He called last year’s conditions “a perfect storm.”

“Everything was planted three weeks to a month too late and that put plant development back from where we’d be in most years,” he said. “Farmers weren’t really prepared for the sugarcane aphid so they weren’t scouting for it. Most guys let it get too far along before they sprayed for the first time. Another mistake they made was trying to use an airplane to spray it on without enough water.”

Wind patterns were somewhat unusual too.

“The climate changed a little bit last year, and we had more southeast wind than we’ve had in years,” he said.

Kevin Larson, director of the Plainsman Research Center at Walsh, is preparing for the station’s annual meeting, with research updates, on Feb. 1.

He said the leading concerns among area farmers continue to be the potential re-emergence of drought and the management of herbicide resistant kochia, but he hadn’t heard anyone express concern about the sugarcane aphid.

He thinks the only the reason the aphid got close to encroaching on southeast Colorado late last season was because of the exceptionally mild, wet summer the region experienced.

“We’re just hoping it doesn’t show up here. We’ve got a fence up for it,” he joked.