Forage: Pearl millet is used primarily for grazing, green chop and silage.
Pearl millet is an erect, annual grass that can grow over 8 feet tall. Seed is produced on a thick cylindrical spike. Leaves are long and pointed with finely serrated margins. Pearl millet does not produce prussic acid, however; nitrate poisoning can be a concern under certain conditions. There are approximately 60,000 seeds per pound.
Pearl millet is adapted throughout the United States and southern Canada but it is grown primarily in the South due to its tolerance to pathogens, acidic soils and high humidity. Pearl millet performs best in moderate to well drained soils with a soil pH between 5.5 and 7.5. Drought tolerance is high.
Planting rates vary from 15 to 25 pounds per acre depending on whether the seed is broadcast or planted in rows. Planting dates are usually from May to July but can be earlier in the deep South. Soil temperature needs to be a minimum of 65 degrees Fahrenheit for germination. Seeding depth should be 1/2 inch.
For optimum forage production, moderate fertility is suggested although pearl millet will grow on lower fertility soils. Fertilize using soil test recommendations. If a soil test is not available, fertilize at similar rates to other annual grass crops. Grazing pearl millet should begin when the plants are between 18 to 30 inches tall and grazed down to 8 inches within 10 days. After grazing, the residue needs to be clipped to a minimum uniform height of 8 inches to ensure high quality forage production for the next grazing period in 3 to 4 weeks. Do not graze after a killing frost until the plants turn completely brown (7 days). If the plants are frost damaged, wait until the regrowth is at least 18 inches high before grazing again. Green chop harvesting should begin when the pearl millet is 18 inches tall and should be completed before the plants head out. Silage should be harvested when the plants are 36 to 48 inches tall or in the boot to early head stage. At this stage, moisture is usually high and the plants should be allowed to partially dry in the field before ensiling. Avoid possible nitrate poisoning by avoiding large applications of nitrogen prior to expected drought periods; do not harvest drought damaged plants within 4 days following a good rain; do not cut or graze within 7 days of a killing frost; cut at a higher stubble height if under stress since nitrates accumulate in the lower stalk. If you suspect that there are high nitrate levels in your forage or silage, have it tested by a forage testing laboratory.