Millet, a grass grown most commonly for animal forage and bird seed, originated as a human food crop in Africa over 4,000 years ago. This warm-season annual thrives in sandy, dry conditions and contains more protein than corn and other forage crops. A fast-growing crop, some millet varieties can be harvested just 70 days after planting.
Plant millet when temperatures stay consistently above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. In USDA plant hardiness zones 7 through 10, plant millet in spring after the last frost. In colder zones, plant millet in summer. Because millet develops moisture-related diseases during periods of heavy rain, such as powdery mildew, avoid growing millet in late summer in the Southeast. Grow proso and foxtail in all seasons except winter in warm, dry regions, such as the southwestern United States.
Common millet varieties include proso (Panicum miliaceum), pearl (Setaria italica), foxtail (Pennisetum americanum) and Japanese (Echinochloa crusgalli). Primarily grown for livestock and bird seed, proso grows to 30 inches high and matures in about 70 days. Grow pearl millet in southern states for human consumption and grain and hay production. Pearl grows up to 10 feet tall and matures in about 120 days. Foxtail millet grows to 40 inches tall and matures in about 85 days. Grow foxtail for forage, but use caution as it is associated with nitrogen poisoning in cattle and is a diuretic for horses. Grow Japanese millet for forage in warm regions. This variety grows well in drought conditions.
If needed, amend soil at planting time. Though millet requires little fertilization to produce a crop, production increases with increased nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil. The amount of nutrients to apply to millet fields depends on the use of the crop and the amount of nutrients already existing in the soil. Over-fertilization harms millet production so perform a soil test before amending the soil. In general, apply 70 lbs. of nitrogen and 45 lbs. of phosphorous per acre to produce hay and seed crops. If you are growing millet for livestock forage and heavy grazing, additional fertilization may be necessary.
Prevent weeds before and at planting time to reduce competition with millet crops. Inspect cultivation equipment for weed seeds before planting, and plant clean, weed-free millet seed. Remove weeds along field margins, roadsides and ditch banks to prevent weed contamination in your fields. Cultivate lightly between rows to prevent weed germination. When cultivating, use caution to avoid damaging millet's shallow root system.
- Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute: Pearl Millet: A New Grain Crop for Moisture Limited Conditions
- Montana State University Extension; Growing Millet in Montana; Dennis Cash, et al.
- North Dakota State University Department of Agriculture; Fertilizing Millet and Canary Seed; W.C. Dahnke, et al.; October 1992
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images
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