Southern Spotlight: Corn and Milo

Amanda Fairley

Amanda Fairley

The climate and soil in north central Kansas awards us some rare versatility:  the ability to plant either corn or milo. Not all acres on the map enjoy this option.  It also burdens us with the choice though.  Which one do we choose?  Which way do we go?  Which answer is the right one?

Most of us, myself included, have gone with corn because of its flexibility between the two.  Corn offers herbicide options that milo can’t handle, which allows us a little more wiggle room when it comes to the cleanliness of our fields, and corn drydown is by far easier to predict than milo drydown.  Those of you who have grown milo before know that it is finicky—its drydown process can be suddenly interrupted, even reversed, which makes predicting and scheduling harvest tricky.

But truly, most of us go with corn because that’s what we’ve always done.  My husband and I farm and we’ve invariably gone with corn year after year because that’s what his father did.  Of course, this means that we’re well equipped for corn and familiar with its challenges and behaviors—that’s the good part of making this decision based on historical precedent: rarely are we surprised and, like good boyscouts, we’re always prepared.

There is no best answer in the corn vs. milo debate.  Both crops are decently suited to our area and offer distinctly different benefits.  Corn will stand through detrimental weather, has a rather predictable drydown schedule, and offers the flexibility of herbicide applications in weedy fields.  Milo yields well in both moist and droughty conditions, suffers less from headworm verses that of earworm (and is easier to treat if headworm does appear), and costs less to put in the ground and grow.  Both crops of course also bring drawbacks: namely, corn yield suffers in dry conditions and milo can fall down or dry unpredictably.

While there may not be a best answer here, there is a best decision.  The best decision between the two is one based upon historical precedence in addition to other factors including climate patterns, weed pressure, personal discipline, and situation.


Drought conditions favor milo.  We’ve been rather droughty for the past three years and it is in drought conditions that milo excels.  In the southern part of our territory, which had about one good storm all season, growers still raised 162 bushel milo.  In such conditions, even 80 bushel corn would have been miraculous.  Growers who took the climate pattern into account and chose milo were rewarded for their decision.

Weed pressures favor all crops and continues to be a burden we face year after year.  Because most herbicide applications shouldn’t be made after milo is 12 inches tall, milo primarily demands a clean field.  If your field isn’t clean, or if weed pressure is unpredictable, corn is usually a better option for the field because it allows for herbicide applications later in the corn’s  growth stage verses that of milo.  Weed pressures are important historical notes to have on your field since the impact of some weeds can span decades.  A shattercane outbreak in a field, for example, can render it unfriendly to milo for over 15 years.

Personal discipline is also important to take into account as you decide between corn and milo.  If you’re the kind of grower who takes good notes and can ensure a clean field, milo is always in your repertoire.  If you’re a little looser with your notes and more apt to kill weeds than prevent them, or if you don’t have the flexibility to adjust harvest according to drydown, corn is likely your better fit for the wiggle room and predictability it offers.

Lastly, your own operational situation is important to consider as you make this decision.  Are you equipped for corn or milo?  Both?  Neither?  Don’t let the everyday practicalities slip your mind as you ponder the larger questions posed by the crop choices.

It’s a tough year to make a case for milo given the excellent corn season that we just ended, but with its many distinct benefits, milo is simply too good a crop for north central Kansas growers to ignore.   It’s a rarity among North American locales to enjoy such flexibility in crop selection, so exercise your option as you consider your next crop and, as always, don’t hesitate to contact me or your FSA with questions as you put in your pre-orders.