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Sorghum as forage, and what about those "treated seeds"?

 
Daniel Gair
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I'm looking at drought tolerant forage options for my goats here in Mexico. Sorghum, amaranth, and Moringa are the three top options I'm coming up with so far. For the Sorghum, I've researched quite a bit and am finding that a sudangrass hybrid will be the best bet for producing forage suitable for goats. My problem is that the only seeds I can find available here are commercially "treated" with Thiram (tetramethylthiuram disulfide) and Stocide II (chlorpyrifos-methyl).

I'm still considering using these seeds, then hopefully doing my own seed saving for subsequent years (local mexicans here save grain seed by filling an airtight container with the seed, then applying a layer of insecticide on top before sealing the container. When reopened they scoop away the insecticide before using the seed). I'll probaly try that route, unless others can provide better ideas. I am hoping to save about 100 pounds of seed a year, if this works. FYI, I also plan on rotating in legumes to replace the nitrogen the Sorghum will remove.

My questions are:

1) Is organic sudangrass sorghum readily available in the U.S.? (I could potentially smuggle some down here)
2) Will the chemicals above damage beneficial bacterial in the soil, or do they simply protect the seed from attack by insects or molds? ( I've found in researching that they are non-carcinogenic in tests, and that they generally fix to soils quickly (within hours or a day or two), and have a "half life" of about two weeks total. Not terribly comforting, but not the worst sounding either).
3) Is it know if these chemicals have potential to become part of the pant material and get transferred to the goat, their milk, or us?

Thanks for any guidance you can give!



 
Ken Peavey
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The solution to pollution is dilution.
1 sorghum seed produces a plant which produces 100 sorghum seeds. If the chems from the seed go directly into the new seeds, already you are looking at 1% of previous levels. The new seeds will be a fraction of the mass of the plant grown.

Ask around. Perhaps you can get some seeds from one of the locals before they put it into storage with the chems.

 
John Elliott
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the answer to your questions lies in the half-life. While these chemicals are insecticidal/fungicidal, they do break down. Thiram has too many sulfurs in it to be a very stable molecule; any bacterium hungry for sulfur will be able to bite into it. The whole thiophosphate part of the chlorpyrifos molecule is just waiting to fall apart when hit by bacterial or fungal digestive enzymes. If you plant your seeds into healthy soil, the bacteria and fungi present in the soil will go to work on these two and eventually (i.e., by harvest time) there will be very little of these left to detect, even if you scour through the soil.

Like any compounds, these could be transferred into the plant, then into the goat that eats the plant, then into the milk the goat gives, but only with severe attenuation every step of the way. If you have healthy soil, maybe only 1/10 of 1% of the chemicals would be picked up intact by the plant. If it doesn't have a pathway to degrade it, the chemical stays in some walled off cell body until the animal eats it and starts digesting it. If the animal has a healthy rumen, maybe only 1% of that will not be metabolized and excreted by the animal. If the animal has a few parts per billion (ppb) in its system, then yes, the animal's milk will have a similar number of ppbs. You can see that it wouldn't take too many steps before the amount of chemical reaches the parts per trillion level, a level that even the best equipped chemical laboratory has difficulty detecting.

And to go Ken one better, the solution to pollution is to remove the pollution before you even plant the seed. You may have done some pre-soaking techniques to speed germination; you can use these same techniques to wash off the chemicals on your pre-treated seeds before you plant them. Take your sorghum seed, agitate it with some water for 5 minutes, let it drain; then repeat. Maybe even add some bleach or alcohol to the water. Bleach can oxidize chlorpyrifos, breaking the molecule apart. Alcohol is a better solvent for these organic molecules and will enable the rinse water to hold more of the stuff you are trying to wash off. After you have washed your seed, plant as you normally would.

Now what to do with that rinse water that contains thiram/chlorpyrifos/alcohol/bleach? I would throw it into a bucket of wood chips and let it dry. The alcohol and the water go away. Then you are left with wood chips with thiram/chlorpyrifos/bleach residue. Put those chips into a biochar burn. Once those chips turn into little black bits of char, it's going to be impossible to find any remaining residue of the chemicals.
 
Daniel Gair
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Extremely knowledgable, helpful responses. Thank you so much!

What are you thoughts on seed saving for the following year? Does the local mexican method sound reasonable? Or is it best to continue buying new seed and having the benefit of the "treatment" it comes with?

D~
 
John Elliott
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Mexican methods usually have a lot of sense to them. Well, except maybe throwing out water on the compacted dirt in front of the house to "keep the dust down". I could never figure that one out.

But now that you know that you can wash off the seed treatment, you will have to make your own determination whether or not the treatment is doing any good for you. That thiram is used as an anti-fungal to prevent damping off diseases. That's usually a problem with young seedlings in very humid areas -- like here in Georgia. If you are in an arid part of Mexico, then it is probably not a big deal, and the thiram is not doing you much good and you won't notice if you wash it off before you plant your seed.

My thoughts on seed saving are: the dryer and cooler the better. If you can keep your seed in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container with a few silica gel packets, you might not need to sprinkle insecticide on the top. I like to use diatomaceous earth mixed in with the seeds I save: if some insect eggs do manage to get in with the seeds, the larvae will be ripped to shreds crawling through the DE.
 
Daniel Gair
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Thanks again John. While generally arid (up to 8 months with zero rainfall!), summer planting time here is tropical, rainy, & humid, so the thiram is probably best kept on given the detriment vs. benefit analysis from your previous post.

The seed saving would happen late fall / early winter when it does get extremely dry, so that could work. We're off-grid, so limited in our refrigeration, but the diatomaceous earth sounds like a great idea (I haven't found it here yet but I usually bring some down from the states every year). The problem I see is that saved seeds wouldn't have the damping off disease protection for the next round. Are there any natural alternatives for that?

 
John Elliott
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Here is a link with some home remedies for damping off. You might try dusting your seeds with cinnamon or biochar before planting. I have tried the cinnamon trick, mixing in some with the potting soil. I guess it worked, I didn't have much of a problem with that batch of starts. But it is not a practice that I use all the time.

 
Daniel Gair
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Thanks John, I'll do some experiments over the coming year and post the results.

I definitely won't be using these seeds anywhere near where our chickens range for fear they'll get the seeds right way, before the Thiram has a chance to break down. I'm also concerned about wild birds, but will try to plant well, and maybe just before a rain.

I'm also curious what you can tell me about the chlorpyrifos-methyl ingredient. Does that bio-degrade as completely as the Thiram?

Dan
 
John Elliott
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No, Chlorpyrifos is a chlorinated molecule. Nature has not evolved to deal with organic molecules containing chlorine; that's why DDT is such a problem -- it persists in the environment. The organo-chlorine molecule cannot be recycled, only broken down into its components. There are two things that can break down organo-chlorine bonds: intense sunlight and the digestive enzymes of fungi. So you either leave the chlorpyrifos exposed to the bright sun, or you bury it in wood chips and keep them watered.
 
Daniel Gair
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So if I elect to not wash the seeds (in order to have the damping off protection of the Thiram. I'm looking at planting several acres, about 100lbs of seed in the next week or so, so the cinnamon or biochar treatment isn't really practical, I don't think), what do you see as the NET result of planting the Chlorpyrifos treated seeds? Is that something then that will potentially be deleterious to the beneficial bacteria in the soil, or end up in the goats and/or milk in significant levels?
 
John Elliott
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Like I said, make sure you have some healthy soil fungal activity going on.

When I planted my sorghum, I let it get about a foot high and I mulched it heavily to keep the weeds down. All that mulch decomposing feeds the soil fungi and they should be able to drastically reduce the level of chlorpyrifos in the soil in the three to four months it takes for the sorghum to get to harvest size.

What kind of mulch material do you have and how big an area are you planting?
 
Daniel Gair
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I'll be planting a couple of acres, and won't be able to mulch anywhere near that much. The soil has almost no humus because of it being so arid here, so probably not a lot of fungal activity to break down the chlorpyrifos. I guess that at this point my best option is to wash the seeds before planting and hope for the best w/ regard to dampening off disease. Sound right?

D~
 
R Scott
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Or plant the seed, then when they are up enough to shade the ground start applying compost tea. Tea made with a high amount of woody compost.

If you are that arid, soaking seeds has real risk--you are guaranteeing they will sprout right now, so there better be enough moisture available in the ground to continue growth or they will die.
 
William Bronson
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Nice thread, I was considering sorghum on my residential lot due to the drought resistance and versatility. Research brought up witchweed, a totally bizarre plant that is a serious sorghum parasite in some places. Is this a problem in Mexico?
I know some sorghum spreads via roots quite readily, perhaps allowing the use of fewer seeds.
As forage would it be ok to water with waste water, grey or even black?
I buy buckwheat from whole foods in bulk, but they only had bobs mills bags of sorghum, lots more expensive. ..
 
John Elliott
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William Bronson wrote:
As forage would it be ok to water with waste water, grey or even black?


If you allow enough time for the sorghum to pick up the nutrients and the soil biology to take care of the introduced bacteria, say two or three good soaking rainstorms.

As far as sources of seed, a bag of birdseed is going to be a better value than Bob's Red Mill. Most birdseed blends use a LOT of sorghum in them. Also, keep your eyes open when you are driving around. The new Wal-Mart in town put in this drainage swale for the parking lot, and I have my eye on some sorghum that's growing wild in the swale. I'm hoping that it is below the radar of any landscaping crew and they will let it go to seed. It still needs a couple more weeks, but when it looks ripe, I'm going to make a seed collection run.
 
Ben Walter
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I would check out sweet potatoes (greens), lab-lab and cowpeas for more drought tolerant forage crops.

Also, watch out for prussic acid poisoning in sorghum forage.

 
William Bronson
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Cool, birdseed for the win!
Could this plant take the place of corn in the three sisters guild.
 
John Elliott
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William Bronson wrote:
Could this plant take the place of corn in the three sisters guild.


You could try it. Some of my sorghum is 12' tall now, plenty tall enough to support climbing beans, although is not as sturdy a plant as corn. About a month ago we had a thunderstorm come through with a lot of wind, and it laid some of it down (along with some of the neighbors' corn). I righted the ones that were felled and put some supports to keep them upright. They recovered and have some nice seed heads on them.

I'm planning on several uses for this crop: leaves for forage, stalks to be pressed for juice and boiled down to syrup, and seed heads for flour or chicken feed. We only had 2" of rain in June and so far in July only .02" -- it's handling this dry spell fairly well, but lately it's looking stressed, so I have had to give it some water.
 
Doug Mac
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Location: Humboldt County, California [9b]
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I don't know if any of these would work for you. According to their web site..."All of our seed is non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented."
http://www.rareseeds.com/broom-corn-multi-color-sorghum/?F_Keyword=sorghum
 
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