SOUTH HUTCHINSON – More U.S. farmers are embracing agriculture’s redheaded stepchild this year – they planted more acres to milo.

For South Hutchinson-based Shield Agricultural Equipment and its ABM Flexo Guard product, that’s good news.

Largely, said Mike Bergmeier, Shield Ag’s president, it’s thanks to grain sorghum, commonly called milo, returning to Delta farm states.

“Right now we have lots of orders coming in,” Bergmeier said earlier this fall. “The order pattern is running four times what it did last year, and that is because of the milo in the Delta.”

A record year

The Delta is cotton country. But acreage this year has declined due to falling prices.

“Red is the new black – milo is the new cotton,” laughed Cindy Perkins, who co-owns Perkins Sales in Bernie, Missouri. The dealership is selling Bergmeier’s milo products right and left due to the increased acres of milo.

The nation’s production of grain sorghum, which saw the biggest percentage acreage increase of any crop this year, is expected to reach 594 million bushels, a 37 percent increase from 2014, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. If realized, that would be the highest U.S. production since 1999.

Delta farmers are aiding in that production, increasing from 150,000 acres in 2014 to a half-million acres this year, Bergmeier said.

“Unless a grower had an interest in a cotton gin and was vertically integrated, a lot of them elected not to grow it,” Bergmeier said of cotton. “With soybean prices under $10 (a bushel), they were looking for an alternative crop that they knew they could grow. So a lot of these guys down there started looking at milo as an option.”

It’s a crop farmers planted here two or three decades ago, said Perkins.

“Milo has come back with a vengeance,” she said. “We haven’t had this much milo in 20 years.”

“Cotton acres are down,” she said. “It was wall-to-wall cotton here and it is not now. The milo is kind of an oldie but a goodie.”

Demand higher

ABM Flexo Guards are an add-on accessory for combines for sorghum harvesting. Bergmeier said they purchased the ABM in 2008 when the couple running the Salina-based company wanted to retire.

The Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce and South Hutchinson City Council approved funding to help Bergmeier move manufacturing into the South Hutch plant.

When in production, the product line supports about three employees, Bergmeier said. In all, about a dozen are cross-trained to make the product.

“So, if we get slow in a department, I can pull a guy, instead of laying him off, I can pull a guy out and have him do this because he is trained.”

Local company Bontrager Powder Coating does all the powder coating, he said.

“It goes in front of a header and you clip it on – it guides the milo back into the header,” Bergmeier said. “These get the milo swept into the header better so you don’t lose it on the ground.”

The Flexo Guard products – the Crop Saver and the Milo Guard – pay for themselves in 80 acres, he said.

“For a small manufacturer like us, it allows us to keep three guys gainfully employed,” he said. “It’s good for us to have another product line to keep people busy.”