Milo twice has helped Jim Knollenberg salvage some profit from a bad situation.
Two years in a row, he switched to milo when May and June rains kept him from planting some fields intended for corn.
"It's aggravating to grow, but given the same situation, I might plant milo again," says Knollenberg, of Oblong, IL.
The first year rains delayed planting, he planted 600 acres of milo; the second year, 1,300 acres.
"I had anhydrous in the fields," he reports. "I didn't want to waste it on soybeans. With our light soils, I will not plant corn after June 10, knowing that I'm going into dry weather. Milo is extremely drought-tolerant."
The decision paid off. Late-planted corn yielded about 90 bu/acre; milo, nearly 125 bu/acre. In Knollenberg's best year, milo sold for a nickel premium over corn. In a typical year, it brings 90-95% of the corn price.
He sold it to a local elevator, which sold it to a birdseed company. Knollenberg provided storage and delivered it as needed.
He selected hybrids based on what was still available that might work in southeastern Illinois. "I had to scramble," he admits.
Milo costs less than corn to grow, he says. He made a preplant application of atrazine and planted in 15" rows for a quick canopy.
That's important, he points out.
"There's no rescue treatment for milo. You can't use a grass herbicide on it. Even with the canopy, I had weed pressure, especially from fall panicum where I no-tilled into soybean stubble."
He escaped other major expenses associated with growing it. Insect pressure was light, although he lost some yield on the outer rows to birds.
His advice to growers: Do your homework first. Find a market before you plant it, work with someone who has experience with milo, and be prepared to risk an early frost.
"It's deadly on milo," says Knollenberg.
The crop is difficult to combine, handle and dry. That point was underscored last spring. Milo being redried to 14% moisture, as specified by the buyer, jammed and collapsed a vertical auger in the bin, breaking a gear box. The repair cost: about $5,000.
"The crop tries your patience," he says. "It is not for everyone."
Go slow in making major crop shifts, advises Larry Casey, Effingham area extension educator.
"In a bad year, some people will go to milo, and some may do well with it," says Casey. "However, we encourage growers to stay with what they know and take their chances on the outcome.
"In late years, you still have the option of soybeans. Cold weather can shut down milo planted in late June. You might not get anything. If you're going to switch to milo, plan ahead and do it closer to June 1."