Millets

E. A. Oelke1, E. S. Oplinger2, D. H. Putnam1, B. R. Durgan1, J. D. Doll2, and D. J. Undersander2

1Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108.
2Department of Agronomy, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI 53706.
May, 1990.

I. History:

Millets are some of the oldest of cultivated crops. The term millet is applied to various grass crops whose seeds are harvested for food or feed. The five millet species of commercial importance are proso, foxtail, barnyard, browntop and pearl. In China, records of culture for foxtail and proso millet extend back to 2000 to 1000 B.C. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica L.) probably originated in southern Asia and is the oldest of the cultivated millets. It is also known as Italian or German Millet. Its culture slowly spread westward towards Europe. Foxtail millet was rarely grown in the U.S. during colonial times, but its acreage increased dramatically in the Great Plains after 1850. However, with the introduction of Sudan grass, acreage planted to foxtail millet decreased.

Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum L.) was introduced into the U.S. from Europe during the 18th century. It was first grown along the eastern seaboard and was later introduced into the Dakotas where it later was grown on considerable acreage. In North Dakota acreage has ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 acres while in Minnesota only a few thousand acres have been grown.

Today, foxtail millet is grown primarily in eastern Asia. Proso millet is grown in the Soviet Union, mainland China, India and western Europe. In the United States, both millets are grown principally in the Dakotas, Colorado and Nebraska.

Barnyard or Japanese millet (Echinochloa frumentaceae L.), is a domesticated relative of the seed, barnyardgrass. It is grown for grain in Australia, Japan and other Asian countries. In the United States, it is grown primarily as a forage.

Browntop millet (Panicum ramosum) is a native of India and was introduced into the United States in 1915. It is grown in southeastern United States for hay or pasture and bird and quail feed plantings on game preserves. It is sometimes sold to Minnesota sportsmen for this purpose. Seed and forage yields of browntop millet have been low in Minnesota tests and it did not compete well with weeds.

Pearl or cattail millet (Pennisetum glaucum) originated in the African savannah and grown since prehistoric time. It is grown extensively in Africa, Asia, India and Near East as a food grain. It was introduced into the United States at an early date but was seldom grown until 1875. It is primarily grown in southern United States as a temporary pasture. It is preferred over sudangrass as a forage crop in the south. Varieties planted at Rosemount, Minnesota produced very little seed, and their forage yield was low compared to foxtail varieties.

II. Uses:

The most commonly grown millets in the midwestern states are proso and foxtail with a limited acreage of barnyard.

The major uses of proso millet are as a component of grain mixes for parakeets, canaries, finches, lovebirds, cockatiels and wild birds and as feed for cattle, sheep, hogs and poultry. Millet for birdfeed purposes is often grown under contract. Large bright or red seed is preferred, and premiums are sometimes paid for superior quality. Two types of bird feed mixes are marketed. One type is for wild birds and the other for caged birds. The cage bird mixes require the better quality proso for which premiums are paid.

Proso millet as livestock feed is similar to oats and barley in feeding value. It is commonly fed in ground form to cattle, sheep, and hogs. Whole seed can be fed to poultry. The protein values compare favorably with sorghum and wheat and are higher than corn. Proso also has considerably higher fiber levels, due to attached hulls. The average composition of proso grain is shown in Table 1. Proso performs best in livestock rations when fed in mixtures with other grains. If the amino acid levels are balanced, the feeding value to hogs is nearly equal to corn. Proso can be cut for hay, but it is not as suitable as foxtail for this purpose.

Table 1: Average composition of proso millet.1
Nutrient Content Nutrient Content
Crude protien 12.0% B-complex vitamins
Crude fiber 8.0% Thiamine 3.0% mg/lb
Ether extract (fat) 4.0% Niacin (nicotinic acid) 24.0 mg/lb2
Total Digestible Nutrients 75% Riboflavin 0.7 mg/lb3
Digestible Energy 1500 kcal/lb Pantothenic acid 3.4 mg/lb3
Calcium 0.05%3 Choline 358.0 mg/lb2
Phosphorus 0.30%2 Critical Amino Acids:
Carotene none3 Lysine 0.23%3
Vitamin D none3 Mythionine 0.23%2
Vitamin B12 none3 Threonine 0.35%3
    Thryptophan 0.35%
1Adapted from "Proso Millet in North Dakota."
2
Inadequate for swine rations.
3Grossly inadequate for swine rations.

Foxtail millet is usually grown for hay or silage often as a short-season emergency hay crop. Some seed is used for finch and wild bird seeds. It does not necessarily yield more forage than proso but is free of foliage hairs and is finer stemmed. For forage, foxtail millet is harvested at the late boot to late bloom stage. The composition of foxtail millet relative to other forages is shown in Table 2. Foxtail millet should not be fed to horses as the only source of roughage since it acts as a laxative. If foxtail millet has been severely stressed it may accumulate nitrate at levels toxic for livestock. Several landraces of foxtail millet have been developed over time and include what is called Common, Siberian, Hungarian, and German Foxtail.

Table 2: The average composition of foxtail millet hay and its comparison to other hay crops.
Feed Protein Ether Extract Crude Fiber Nitrogen Free Extract Ash
  -------------------- % --------------------
Millet          
Foxtail 8.3 2.6 25.8 43.8 7.2
Pearl 8.0 1.8 31.6 37.6 8.9
Oat (Full Bloom) 7.9 2.6 28.1 39.9 5.8
Sundangrass (Full Bloom) 9.1 2.0 25.7 41.4 8.5
Crampton, E.W. and L.W. Harris. 1969. Applied Animal Nutrition. W.A. Freeman and Co., San Francisco.

III. Growth Habits:

Millets are annual grasses. Proso millet grows to a height of approximately 40 in. and has a hollow stem. Both stems and leaves are curved with short hairs. Proso millet has a large, open panicle inflorescence. When the grain is threshed, most of the seed remains enclosed in the inner hull. Hulls are extremely variable in color and, depending on the variety, may be white, red, yellow, brown or striped.

Foxtail millet has slender, erect leafy stems and may grow up to 50 in. tall. The inflorescence is a dense, bristly panicle resembling the panicles of weedy foxtails. As in proso millet, the seeds are enclosed in the hull and also range in color from creamy white, red, yellow or dark purple. Both proso and foxtail millet are highly self-pollinated but have been known to occasionally outcross.

Proso and foxtail millet are short season crops. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, proso millet will mature in 70 to 90 days from planting, depending on the variety. Foxtail millet requires approximately 60 days to reach the heading stage.

IV. Environmental Requirements:

A. Climate:

Millets require warm temperatures for germination and development and are sensitive to frost. For these reasons, they are normally planted from mid-June to mid-July in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Optimum soil temperatures for seed germination are between 68 and 86o F. Proso and foxtail millet are efficient users of water and grow well in areas of low moisture, partly because they are early and thereby avoid periods of drought. Millets are often grown as catch crops where other crops have failed or planting is delayed due to unfavorable weather.

B. Soil:

Millets grow well on well-drained loamy soils. They will not tolerate water-logged soils or extreme drought. Proso millet does not perform well on coarse, sandy soils.

C. Seed Preparation and Germination:

A fungicide will provide protection against head smut Sphacelothaca destruens) and may increase seedling survival.

V. Cultural Practices:

A. Seedbed Preparation:

Seedbed preparation for millet is similar to that for spring-seeded small grains. Weeds should be controlled prior to planting and the seedbed should be firm and well-worked. Since millets are planted late in the season, spring plowing and cultivation for weed control are practical.

B. Seeding Date:

Suggested seeding dates in Minnesota and Wisconsin range from June 15 to July 15. Seeding later in the season may be risky due to early frosts, and yields may be lower than with earlier plantings. Millet is best established when soil temperatures reach 65o F at a depth of one in.

C. Method and Date of Seeding:

A seeding rate of 20 lb/acre (25 seeds/ft2) is recommended for proso millet. Foxtail millet should be sown at a rate of 15 lb/acre (75 seeds/ft2). Millets are normally seeded with a grain drill at a depth of one in. Even though the seed is small, it can develop extreme elongation of the first internode and emerge from 1 in. and even deeper unless a hard crust forms. Press wheels on the drill will increase seedbed firmness and aid in stand establishment. Millets compete poorly with weeds; therefore, high seeding rates are necessary to establish a dense stand.

D. Fertility and Lime Requirements:

Nitrogen is generally the most limiting nutrient in millet production. Rates of nitrogen should be based on yield goals and cropping history (Table 3). Excess nitrogen, whether applied or residual, may result in lodging. Allow for nitrogen applied as manure or other waste. Phosphorus and potassium should be applied as needed based on soil recommendations (Table 4). Drill row applications of fertilizer (except straight phosphorus fertilizers) may cause seedling injury and are not recommended. A pH of 5.6 or higher is recommended for millet.

Table 3: Annual nitrogen recommendations for millet.
  Based on previous crop and organic matter level
Based on nitrate test1 Corn, sugar beets, potatoes, small grain Soybean, sunflowers Alfalfa, clover black fallow Organic soil
    Organic matter level3  
Expected yield Soil-N (0-2 ft.)2 + fertilizer N Low to
medium High
Low to
medium High
Low to medium High  
(cwt/acre) (lb/acre) ------------ N to apply (lb/acre) ------------
30 120 100 80 80 60 40 20 20
25-29 100 80 60 60 40 30 20 20
20-24 80 60 40 50 30 20 0 20
15-19 70 50 30 40 20 0 0 0
Less than 14 60 40 20 30 20 0 0 0
1For use in western Minnesota only.
2
Subtract nitrate-N (lb/acre, 0-2 ft.) from this value to obtain N to apply (lb/acre).
3Irrigated sandy soils are included in the low to medium category.

Table 4: Annual phosphorus and potassium recommendations for millet1 .
Phosphorus (P) P2O5 to apply Potassium (K) K2 O to apply
Soil Test (lb/acre) (lb/acre) Soil Test (lb/acre) (lb/acre)
0-10 40 0-100 80
11-20 30 101-200 80
21-30 20 201-300 20
30+ 0 300+ 0
1Recommended rates are for total amount to apply—broadcast. (For soil tests reported in ppm, multiply by 2 to get lb/a).

E. Variety Selection:

The most important factors to consider in selecting a variety are maturity and lodging potential. Seed color may also be important if grain is to be used for bird feed. Three types of millet are adapted in Minnesota and Wisconsin and other areas of the Upper Midwest: proso, foxtail and barnyard (Japanese). Characteristics of individual millet varieties follow:

Recommended Forage Variety:

Empire - Foxtail. Very late and tall. Poor lodging resistance. Very small, plump yellow seed of low test weight. Released by Agriculture Canada.

Recommended Grain Varieties:

Cerise - Red proso. Very early. Medium height. Fair lodging resistance. Small, orange seed of high test weight. Released by Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station in 1974.

Dawn - White proso. Very early. Short. Fair lodging resistance. Medium size, white seed of medium test weight. Released by Nebraska Agricultural Experiment station in 1976.

Minco - White proso. Late. Medium height. Fair lodging resistance. Medium size, white seed of high test weight. Released by Minnesota Agricultural Station in 1976.

Minsum - White proso. Early. Medium height. Poor lodging resistance. Large, white seed of medium test weight. Open heads with long, spreading branches contrast with more compact heads of other white proso varieties. Released by Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1980.

Rise - White proso. Medium maturity. Short. Fair lodging resistance. Medium size, white seed of medium test weight. Released by Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station in 1983.

Other Varieties:

Barnyard or Japanese - Forage. Late. Very tall. Very good lodging resistance. Medium size, gray seed of low test weight. High yielding forage millet but coarse.

Cope - White proso. Very tall. Fair lodging resistance. Large, white seed of medium test weight. Released by Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station in 1978.

German, German R, and German No. 8 - Foxtail. Very late. Very tall. Good lodging resistance. Very small, yellow seed of low test weight. High forage yield but too late for good seed production.

Panhandle - White proso. Early. Medium height. Poor lodging resistance. Large, white seed of medium test weight. Lower yield than Minsum. Released by Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station in 1967.

Red Leonard - Red proso. Very late. Tall. Fair lodging resistance. Medium size, orange seed of high test weight. Lower grain yield than Cerise in 1982 trials. Released by Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station in 1983.

Sno-Fox - Foxtail. Late. Medium height. Poor lodging resistance. Small, white seed of medium test weight. Released by Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station in 1980.

F. Weed Control:

1. Mechanical:

Millets do not compete well against weeds. For this reason, it is important to control serious weed problems prior to planting. Since millets are not seeded until the middle of June, germinating annuals and emerging perennials can be controlled by frequent cultivation during early growth.

2. Chemical:

To control broadleaf weeds in proso millet, 2,4-D amine can be applied when the crop is 4 to 6 in. tall. Spraying should be avoided when heading or flowering. Atrazine which was used for control of annual broadleaves and some grasses in proso millet will not be labeled for such use after September of 1990.

G. Diseases and Their Control:

Head Smut (Sphacelotheca destruens) can be a problem in proso millet but can be controlled by seed treatment.

Kernel Smut (Ustilago crameri) can be present in both proso and foxtail millet. This disease requires seed treatment and crop rotation for effective control, as the inoculum will remain in the soil for several years.

Bacterial Stripe Disease (Pseudomonas syringae pv. panici) has been found in Wisconsin and South Dakota. Affected plants have brown water-soaked streaks on the leaf, blades, sheaths and stems. The long narrow lesions show numerous thin, white scales of the exudate. The disease is thought to be seed-borne.

H. Insects and Mites and Their Control:

Wheat Curl Mite - Foxtail millet is known to harbor this insect which may transmit wheat streak mosaic to winter wheat. Cutting foxtail for hay by early August and then undercutting the stubble should kill the crop and prevent it from acting as a host.

Grasshoppers - This insect has been the most serious on millets. Insecticides are cleared for use on millets for control of grasshoppers.

Armyworms - This insect can be prevalent but can be controlled by insecticides.

I. Harvesting:

Proso millet is ready for harvest when seeds in the upper half of the panicle are mature. Seeds in the lower half of the panicle may still be in the dough stage but should have lost their green color. At this point, the leaves and stems may still be green. Millet is usually harvested by swathing to allow drying of straw before combining. Swathing too early reduces yield, test weight and color quality. Harvesting too late increases loss as a result of shattering and lodging. Rodents and birds can cause damage to proso during ripening. Control programs are often needed.

Foxtail millet should be harvested for hay or silage from the late boot to bloom stage. At this stage, hay quality is at its peak, and protein levels of 12 to 14% may be common. As the plant matures, protein declines. Also mature bristles from delayed harvest may cause lump jaw and sore eyes in cattle feeding from bunks. When harvesting foxtail millet for seed production, it should not be cut until completely ripe, then swathed and threshed. Sometimes it is direct combined after a killing frost, but some seed loss will occur.

J. Drying and Storage:

Millet seed should be stored at 13% moisture or less. Federal grain standards have not been established for millet. However, good quality millet seed should have a minimum of broken kernels and be relatively free from weed seeds.

VI. Yield Potential and Performance Results:

A. Minnesota:

The most recent millet yield tests conducted in Minnesota show that proso millet yields 2500 to 2800 lb/acre while foxtail millets yield 3.0 to 4.4 T/acre of forage. In these studies foxtail millet had 240,000 seeds/lb with a test weight of 47 lb/bu while the proso varieties ranged from 66,000 to 81,000 seeds/lb and test weights of 51 to 56 lb/bu.

Table 5: Yield and agronomic data for several millet varieties tested at Rosemount and Becker, Minnesota, 1983-1985.
  Grain yield1 Forage yield2 Planting to
  Rosemount3 Becker4 Rosemount Becker Heading Maturity Mature
Height
  ---- lb/acre ---- --- T/acre --- ----- days ----- In.
Foxtail              
Empire 1950 570 4.4 3.0 59 99 47
Proso              
Dawn 3432 1588 3.5 1.8 39 74 31
Minco 3978 1537 5.0 2.0 42 83 40
Minsum 3602 1679 4.1 2.1 39 78 38
Rise 3936 1491 4.3 1.8 42 81 35
Cerise 3657 2005 4.4 2.4 38 73 40
LSD 5% 372 303 0.3 0.2 -- -- --
110% moisture basis; 2Dry matter basis and includes grain; 3Clay-loam soil; 4Sandy soil.

VII. Economics of Production and Markets:

Production costs for proso millet are similar to small grains; however, with the market price of proso millet ranging from 6 to 8 cents/lb, income/acre is less than for a good crop of hard red spring wheat. There are numerous outlets for markets or contracts in Minnesota both in Minneapolis and northern Minnesota. Some markets in the Minneapolis area are Knight Seed Co. in Burnsville and Barzan of Minneapolis. One market in northern Minnesota is Minn-Dak Growers Assoc., Grand Forks, ND.

VIII. Information Sources:

Varietal Trials of Farm Crops. 1990. L.H. Hardman, Ed., Minnesota Report 24. Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Minnesota. 46 p.

Foxtail (hay) Millet. 1988. J.L. Helm. Bulletin R-635. Cooperative Extension Service. North Dakota State University. 2 p.

Guide to Computer Programmed Soil Test Recommendations for Field Crops. 1986. G.W. Rehm, C.J. Rosen, J.F. Moncreif, William E. Fenster and J. Grava. Agric. Bulletin 0519., Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota. 36 p.

Proso Millet in North Dakota. 1983. W.S. Ball and A.A. Schneiter. Folder A-805. Cooperative Extension Service, North Dakota State University. 3 p.

Millet, Buckwheat and Annual Canarygrass. 1962. R.G. Robinson. Extension Bulletin 302. Agricultural Extension Service, University of Minnesota. 12 p.


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