Rillington Fields calls for increased pearl millet research

Several weeks ago the fall pearl millet harvest ended on the farm.

A warm summer with drought periods late in the grain-fill period resulted in lower-than-expected yields.

Last week the grain was at a proper test moisture (< 14%) for cleaning and bagging. About 120 total bags were packed and prepared for sale or holding over for next year’s seed. Unfortunately, the intermittent droughts led to high grain abortion on the seed panicles of the millet. Bird damage is always a factor, but was not considered to factor into the yield drop.

In our field rotation we only produced our unique ‘Southern Pearl’ pearl millet on 20 acres this year, adding to our overall decreased harvest compared to last year’s harvest of 30 acres. We expect total yield to increase next year with improved management, in addition to more planted acres.

Rillington Fields produces its signature ‘Southern Pearl’ pearl millet grain on no-till, dry-land farmland managed for rotational cropping and winter rye cover cropping. We use intentional and sustainable practices to attempt to maximize our yields by balancing production costs (time, equipment, fertilizer, etc) with the pressures of weather and weeds.

Our main market for the pearl millet grain is dry grain sold to Indian grocers in Georgia. Our desire is to target the human food market, staying away from the bird seed or forage markets. By targeting the human market we are able to grow the market awareness for pearl millet, an old world small grain considered one of the African orphan crops.

Recently at the World Food Prize in Iowa in October, there was much conversation on increased research going into the orphan grain crops of Africa for further breeding and seed development. Almost no research is currently going on for pearl millet in the United States. The USDA-ARS maintains large seed banks and newly-developed seed stock and data from recent breeding projects are still sitting in various researcher’s computers. There is a growing need for the federal and state institutions to increase pearl millet research on the domestic front. This can then allow for more improved international research to complement the large germplasm and development programs in India at ICRISAT -the international research center for subtropical agriculture that focuses on sorghum, millet, and pulses.

Recently I became aware of some nominal breeding research beginning at Kansas State University. While we are not fully aware of that specific program’s intentions it is assuring to Rillington Fields that there is nominal research on pearl millet research and advancement.

Each harvest season we ask similar questions as one of the only domestic pearl millet producers for human consumption.

1. What management techniques must we improve to better increase final yield?

2. How could we better improve our harvesting techniques for reduced loss and improved cleaning?

3. How can we attract more producers to come along side our farm in producing more pearl millet for improved supply to the local markets?

4. What goals should we make to increase production and improved profits?

5. When will other research institutions begin to invest time and effort and money into pearl millet development?

Are you a producer of pearl millet in the U.S. or conducting research on pearl millet? If so, please contact us! What questions do you ask at the end of each season? Please leave a comment here.

Please read the 2007 publication by a number of collaborators on pearl millet production available by pdf format here: https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu07/pdfs/gulia196-203.pdf

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