The History of Sorghums and Sudans – by Chad Hale

For thousands of years, livestock producers in moderate climates have had to deal with the lack of cool season grass growth in the summer. Warm season crops like sorghum and sudan have been filling that void known as the summer slump for many centuries.

The Egyptians are thought to have used sorghum 3,000 years ago and sorghum appears in a carving from Ninevah, Assyria from 700 BC. The crops spread across Europe and then to America with the colonists and from Africa with the slave trade. Its primary use in this country was for syrup for human consumption but its summer growth was noticed and utilized for forage on a small scale

In 1830, Governor Means of South Carolina is credited with importing Johnsongrass for forage and if you look in your corn fields today you can see that it spread really well! The first forage sorghum variety called Chinese Amber came from France in 1853 and its use for forage rapidly spread at that time. Shattercane is spoken of in accounts of early settlers and it results from the crossing of Johnsongrass and sorghum to create another aggressive weed problem. Sudangrass is a more recent introduction being brought to the US by the USDA in 1909 from Africa. A single row of sudangrass 16 feet long planted that year in Texas was the origin of most of the seed in the US for many years after that.

Even though we think of Johnsongrass and shattercane as weeds today, they were better than no forage at all and filled a feed niche in the hot dry summer that still challenges us today. We have come a long way with sorghums, sudangrasses and the sorghum x sudan crosses that have been bred over the last 50 years and we look forward to even more advances in the future. The most significant recent advance was the Brown Midrib Trait that was introduced into sorghums in 1978. There are now three types, gene 6, gene 12, and gene 18 BMR’s with gene 6’s offering the most improvement in digestibility. It’s this gene 6 material that forms the basis of the Alta Seed program that Byron Seeds uses.

Choosing between Forage Sorghum, Sorghum Sudan, Hybrid Sudangrass, and Master Graze – by Larry Hawkins

Bulleted lists for comparison between Forage Sorghum, Sorghum Sudan, Hybrid Sudangrass, Master Graze.

Forage Sorghum (FS)

  • Treated more like corn silage
  • Planted in rows, direct chopped
  • One-cut system
  • Shorter relative maturities (85 and 94 days) now available to go further North
  • Can be Concept® treated which allows some herbicide usage
  • Nutrient profile – can reach 10% CP, 10% Sugar and 10% Starch in soft dough stage
  • Yield – In Southern parts of Byron marketing area will be competitive with or beating corn silage. In Northern parts where double cropped with Tritcale will match corn silage yield
  • Seeding rate – 80,000 seeds/acre (usually 5 to 8#’s). This the least expensive sorghum product to plant
  • Harvested at soft dough stage as grain becomes very hard as it ripens
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest for haylage and baleage

Sorghum Sudan (SS)

  • Quickest harvest after planting (45 days for first cut, than 30 days for subsequent cuts)
  • 2 or more cut system – more cuttings further South, less further North
  • Can be 11 to 22% CP depending on fertility
  • Produces between 2 and 2½ DM per cutting
  • Seeding rates – 40 to 50 Ibs in Upper Midwest, decreasing to 25 Ibs in KY and TN
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest for haylage, baleage or grazing
  • Can be interseeded with 5 Ibs annual red clover for cover crop for the next fall, winter

Hybrid Sudangrass (SG)

  • Only candidate of this group for dry baling
  • Fastest dry-down for haylage/baleage also
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Can be 11 to 22% CP depending on fertility
  • New AS9301 is competitive on yield and quality with SS. It is the first BMR Gene 6 Sudan Hybrid
  • Seeding rate – 20 to 25 Ibd/acre
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest as haylage, dry hay, baleage or by grazing

Master Graze (MG)

  • Has the earliest planting date – can be planted after soil temps hit 55°F whereas all sorghums must wait for 60°F
  • Can be from 11% to 18% CP
  • Largest yield for a 60 day crop – 4 to 5 tons DM
  • Seeding rate – 30,000 to 36,000/acre depending on row width.
  • One-cut system, however Sorghum Sudan or Hybrid Sudangrass can be seeded into MG after cutting and MG tillers will add to first cutting of sorghum.
  • Available in untreated (UT), but not Certified Organic
  • Harvest for haylage, baleage or by grazing

Gene 6 & Brachytic Dwarf Sorghums – by Dwayne Colvin

Advanta, the company that supplies Byron Seeds LLC with our sorghum lineup, is the world leader in sorghum research and development. The Alta program is their top line of sorghum products, the best of the best.

Almost everyone has had some experience with sorghum sudan. Most of us that tried sorghum sudan ten or twenty years ago have some form of horror story to tell:

A week of rain when they should have been harvesting, leaving you with sorghum 12-15 feet tall, or at least it was 12 feet tall until the wind came through.

Cows lost in a field for over a week: “Well, last I seen them, they was headed into that 10 foot tall patch of sorghum over there. So far, they ain’t gaining on the stuff. I suppose if we don’t get a drought real soon, we may not see those cows ‘til fall.”

Or nutrition problems: “Yup, as a matter of fact, I sent some of that sorghum off to the lab. It appears this sorghum has the same nutritional value as firewood, only it’s not quite as digestible.”

The good news is that Advanta has developed a totally new sorghum family in the past few years. One major change is the BMR gene 6 line of sorghums. BMR is a genetic mutation, (not a GMO trait), that produces less lignin which means higher digestibility and much better energy values than the old varieties. Highly digestible fiber means more available energy while still slowing down the rate of passage, pushing the rumen away from that constant verge of acidosis. Balancing a TMR on the edge of acidosis has limited the average life of a dairy cow to 1.8 lactations when they should be productive for 6 or even 8 lactations.

So Advanta has given us more digestible fiber and higher nutrition, but that’s just the beginning. Another big breakthrough is yield. Advanta has developed one-cut forage sorghums that will out-yield corn silage, and on about a third less fertilizer and water. The brachytic dwarf gene gives us a plant that tops out at about seven feet tall and, with a stalk as big as your wrist, (ok, as big as my wrist), has tremendous standability with digestibility and high sugar content. Starch is 10-15% and protein is a couple of notches higher than corn silage. The days to maturity run from high eighties to about 110, depending on the variety. Add in male sterile and photoperiod sensitive varieties and you’ve got a lot of choices for every situation.

Advanta also has a sudan hybrid grass, AS9301, that will yield with the best of the sorghum sudans, with quicker regrowth. The reason why sudans were crossed with sorghums in the first place was to boost yield and regrowth in the sudan grasses. There was a tradeoff, however, as the sorghums brought a little less protein to the mix. With AS9301 sudan grass you can have high protein and high NDFd with tremendous yield and fast regrowth. Plus, this grass can be dry baled. We just don’t have a better package to offer than this.

Advanta Alta program has bundled something really unique with their summer annuals. Advanta has a replant policy. If you have a field that has poor emergence, or gets froze off, drowned out, ate by bugs, or trampled by wild elephants, (ok, I’m stretching it), we’ll replace the seed at 50% of the cost. With the spring weather we’ve had the past couple of years; a replant policy has some real appeal.
There’s one more thing I should mention. We have a return policy on all Alta products. There are times when getting the seed into the ground just isn’t going to happen. It’s nice to know that you have the option of buying seed and returning it if things don’t go according to plan.

You -> “But Advanta products can be a bit pricey. I can buy sorghums from the local feed store cheaper than that.”

Me -> “I hear what you’re saying, but are they a better investment for your money?”

Yes, it will cost a bit more per acre to plant Advanta forage sorghums, sorghum sudans and sudan grasses, but let’s list the advantages:


More yield per acre on less inputs $$
High fiber digestibility$$
More protein$$
Higher energy $$
Faster regrowth $$
Better herd health$$
More lactations$$
Option of returning seed$$
Replant policy+ $$
= $$$$

Any way you add it up, Advanta sorghum products pay higher returns, every time.