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Ohio State University Extension


Sorghum-Sudangrass as a Cover Crop in Ohio

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Sarah Noggle; Educator; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County
Rachel Cochran; Extension Associate, Water Quality; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County

Information gathered from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) was used to compile this summary on how to use sorghum-sudangrass as a cover crop in Ohio. For more information, see the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and the Cover Crop Selector Tool found at: view of plants with a thick central stem, corn-like leaves, and tannish-colored seed pods branching off the top of the stem.


  • Leaves that resemble corn but have less leaf area and a waxier leaf surface
  • Have more secondary roots than a corn plant
  • Brown midrib available on some hybrids

Cultural Traits

  • Summer annual
  • Minimum germination temperature: 65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window (state average): May 20–Sept. 6
  • Upright growth habit: 8–12 feet
  • Preferred soil pH: 6.0–7.0
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop sorghum-sudangrass.
Heat tolerance Excellent
Drought tolerance Excellent
Low fertility tolerance Good
Winter survival Winter-killed


  • Drilled at ½–1½ inches
    • 16–30 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 18–30 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast without incorporation not recommended

Additional planting information:

  • 17,280 seeds per lb.
  • When planting on slopes or using for forage/grazing, increase seeding rate.
  • If applying manure, tend toward the lower end of the seeding rate.

Disclaimer: Rules for Financial Assistance Program Recipients
Individuals participating in financial assistance programs are required to follow Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Appendix A regarding seeding rates and dates. Failure to do so will jeopardize payments. Appendix A can be found in Ohio’s Field Office Technical Guide, Section 4, Ecological Sciences Tools:


  • Dry matter = 4,000–8,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation.

Additional performance information:

  • Sorghum-sudangrass does not tolerate shade, flooding, or ponding.
  • Rapid growth is good for short windows.
  • Do not mow closer than 6 inches to the soil surface to ensure growth.
  • Brown midrib hybrids are available for higher forage value.
  • Vertical structure, very edible forage, and seed production are well suited for grazing and wildlife.
  • Sorghum-sudangrass can cause prussic acid poisoning in livestock.
    • Do not graze until at least 18–36 inches.
  • Drought-stressed plants can cause nitrate poisoning.
  • Mowing or harvesting promotes tillering and increases root growth.
  • Specific hybrids may be used to manage penetrans root lesion nematode.
  • Mature, frost-killed plants become woody.
  • If allowed to go to seed, sorghum-sudangrass has the potential to become a weed.
  • Do not plant in fields with Johnson grass.
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop sorghum-sudangrass.
Nitrogen scavenger Excellent
Soil builder Excellent
Erosion fighter Excellent
Weed fighter Excellent
Grazing Very good
Quick growth Excellent
Lasting residue Very good
Mechanical forage harvesting Excellent


  • Tillage
    • If terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required.
  • Chemical
  • Winterkill

Additional termination information:

  • After sorghum-sudangrass grows to a height of 2 or more feet, mowing it to a height of less than 2 inches may terminate it.
  • Mowing after heading may terminate.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop sorghum-sudangrass.
Soil Impacts
Subsoiler Very good
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Good
Compaction fighter Excellent
Nematodes Very good
Disease Very good
Allelopathic (produces biochemicals that inhibit weeds) Excellent
Chokes weeds Excellent
Attracts beneficials Good
Bears traffic Very good
Short windows Excellent

Potential Disadvantages

Increased weed potential: could be a minor problem

Increased insects/nematodes: occasionally a minor problem

Hinders crops: could be a moderate problem

  • Can cause negative rotation effects if planted after grass crops.

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a moderate problem


This publication was adapted with consent from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) with content from the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and Cover Crop Selector Tool ( It was created under a joint project with MCCC to produce customized introductory guidance about cover crops for all member states/provinces. Ohio cover crop recipes can be found at

The Midwest Cover Crops Council ( aims to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest by providing educational/outreach resources and programs, conducting new research, and communicating about cover crops to the public.

Funding for this project was provided by the McKnight Foundation.

Red square with white lettering spelling McKnight Foundation.

Originally posted Mar 31, 2023.