Water-saving alternative forage crops explored

Although nutritive value was lower than corn, sorghum still can provide alternative for growers to produce more biomass with less water.

July 9, 2020

1 Min Read
Crop Sci Texas Tech canopy temperature.jpg
Bishwoyog Bhattarai, a graduate student in Sukhbir Singh's lab at Texas Tech University, measuring the canopy temperature using the infrared thermometer.Credit: Sukhbir Singh.

In the semi-arid Texas High Plains, growers and producers are concerned about the sustainability of the beef and dairy industries, which rely heavily on irrigated corn for feed grain and silage.

A main source of irrigation — the Ogallala Aquifer — is declining rapidly, according to an announcement from the American Society of Agronomy.

The aquifer's decline emphasizes the need for producers and growers to find alternative, water-efficient forage crops for sustainable beef and dairy production in the region, the announcement said.

In a new study published in Crop Science, researchers from Sukhbir Singh's laboratory at Texas Tech University investigated the potential of forage sorghum and pearl millet as alternatives to corn for forage production. The two-year study evaluated the physiological responses of multiple varieties of all three crops under various irrigation regimes, including dryland.

The team collected data on leaf water potential, stomatal conductance and canopy temperature and also studied the influence of these responses on biomass production and nutritive values.

The study reported that sorghum showed better physiological responses and produced greater biomass under water stress conditions compared to pearl millet and corn. Although the nutritive value of sorghum was lower than corn, sorghum still could provide growers with an alternative to produce more biomass with less water, the researchers determined.

As a management option, forage sorghum could be mixed with high-nutrition supplements to achieve desirable feed quality and increase profitability, the researchers said.

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