Dry Weather: With little rainfall in recent weeks, meteorologists from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reported that last month was the driest October in South Florida since record keeping began in 1932. The low monthly rainfall total, coupled with seasonal forecasts of exceptionally dry conditions, underscores the risks of farming, especially on non-irrigated lands where our sweet sorghum yields are all over the map -- ~40 green tons per acre per harvest, to ~20 green tons per acre per harvest.
Ergot in Sweet Sorghum: A major misconception of Farmers and non-Farmers (especially here in the Southeast and Florida) is that growing sweet sorghum for ethanol feedstock will be a "piece of cake". This belief is based primarily on the success of growing forage sorghum for decades. But as more field experience develops, farmers will be shocked that forage and sweet sorghum are very different crops. One very serious problem is a plant disease called ergot, which attacks the unfertilized ovaries in the sorghum heads. In our field experience, we've seen Brix (sugar content) go from ~18 in healthy plants to 0 in just 5 days. Ergot can hit with either high humidity, cooler temperatures, or a combination of the two. We are working with seed producers, farming equipment companies (i.e., John Deere), and applying weed control to near-by Johnsongrass (and also Cogongrass) areas to address this devastating problem.
Soil Micro-Nutrients: This is a good lesson in never really trusting anybody for advice unless they have "dirt underneath their fingernails" -- which are typically the "Old Timers". In walking our fields with typically ~15 foot height sorghum, we always saw what we describe as "crop circles" -- circular or oblong shaped areas where the sorghum was dwarf of a couple of feet tall. After extensive soil testing, we added a micro-nutrient pack to our fertilizer (N) regiment, but the problem still remained. Talking to an "Old Timer" who had worked similar fields, we applied a foliar manganese application -- problem solved!