Kay State Sorghum Researchers to Receive $2 Million Grant to Upgrade Nitrogen Guidelines

The sorghum industry…

The project is part of a US$65 million national project to develop sorghum as a “climate-smart commodity”

Kansas State University researchers have been awarded a $2 million grant to conduct research that will update nitrogen application guidelines for sorghum. (Photo: K-State Research and Extension, Flickr/Creative Commons)

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State University researchers say a $2 million grant they recently received will help modernize nitrogen application guidelines for sorghum in the tri-state region, ultimately increasing the value of grain sorghum in the United States.

K-State Research and Extension environmental quality specialist Peter Tomlinson said the grant is part of a five-year, $65 million award from the National Sorghum Growers through the USDA. Partnership for Climate Smart Goods project.

The grant was announced in mid-September.

“This is a watershed day for the sorghum industry,” said Tim Lust, CEO of National Sorghum Producers, calling sorghum a “resource-conserving crop.” We appreciate the USDA’s opportunity to realize the potential of sorghum as a climate-smart commodity.”

According to Lust, the overall project creates a way to quantify, track and verify the impacts of all practices associated with sorghum production, with the goal of “monetizing these practices in ecosystem service markets of all kinds.” The initial focus, Lust said, is low-carbon fuel markets.

Tomlinson noted that K-State’s work will be part of a tri-state effort with colleagues from Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M University.

“One of the things we’ve been hoping to do over the last couple of years is to upgrade our soil fertility guidelines for grain sorghum,” Tomlinson said. “This project will provide funding for this, particularly in line with our nitrogen application guidelines.”

In Kansas, field trials will be conducted in Manhattan (led by Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, professor of soil fertility and nutrient management); Hayes (led by soil scientist Augustin Aubur); and Colby (under the guidance of Northwest Area Agronomist Lucas Haag). Tomlinson is the project manager.

Similar trials will be organized in Oklahoma and Texas, Tomlinson said. Most of the work is done in arid areas, although some fuel-limited testing will be tested in Texas.

“We believe that with all of these collaborative efforts over the next four years, we will be able to upgrade and advance the N recommendations for grain sorghum throughout the region,” Tomlinson said.

He added that modernizing nitrogen guidelines for sorghum production will allow growers to apply nitrogen at the right levels while maximizing yields.

This is important, for example, in markets such as the California ethanol market, where there are strict guidelines for verifying how the crop is grown. To capitalize on such markets, Tomlinson said, “we have to be able to show that grain sorghum is produced sustainably and efficiently.”

“The other part of it,” he said, “is when they develop a carbon intensity estimate (a measure of hydrocarbon emissions compared to the amount of energy input) for grain sorghum, nitrogen plays an important role in that calculation. Through this work, if we can find that we can lower the nitrogen guidelines by even a couple of percentage points, we can ultimately lower that carbon intensity figure for grain sorghum.”

The $65 million project is funded over five years, but Tomlinson said he hopes to complete the nitrogen management project in four, “so that in the final year we have time to communicate the results and incorporate them into our expansion programs across the region.”

“We’ll see how the fertility trials go over the next few years, but if we can optimize our nitrogen application rates, that will have the added benefit of reducing runoff and nitrogen leaching,” he said. “This shows a common effort to sustainably improve our crop production systems. Water quality is important to my position, and even if we don’t directly address water quality, we know there are additional benefits to the cropping system if we can optimize nitrogen rates and reduce excess nitrogen.”

More information about the USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program is available available online. National sorghum producers also have published information about the project on the Internet.

— Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension News Service Kay State Sorghum Researchers to Receive $2 Million Grant to Upgrade Nitrogen Guidelines

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