Most Americans know millet for its use in birdseed, with proso millet being the most common form of the grain used for that purpose, and also as forage for cattle and poultry. However, the uses of this ancient grain are expanding.
Proso millet, the only variety of millet grown in the U.S., is gaining popularity for its benefits in crop rotation plans. The crop has a short growing season, requires little water and can improve yields in crops like wheat, corn and sunflowers when used as a rotational crop.
Western Nebraska’s growing conditions are perfect for proso millet. Not long ago, Nebraska joined Colorado and South Dakota as the three states producing 90 percent of the proso millet supply in the U.S. Nebraska farmers harvested nearly 3.3 million bushels in 2015, accounting for 23.3 percent of the national supply.
Proso millet is also finding its way into health food products and on grocery store shelves in various specialty cereals, noodles and bakery products.
“Proso millet is a crop of dry conditions,” says Dr. Dipak Santra, associate professor and alternative crops breeding specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “It can be grown in harsh environments, and it is very healthy. Not only is proso millet gluten-free, but it also has an extremely low glycemic index, so it is good for people who have chronic metabolic health disorders. Plus, proso millet is high in iron, calcium, magnesium and other vitamins and minerals.”
Dan Barrett, who grows between 600 and 800 acres of proso millet as a rotation crop on his wheat and corn farm in western Nebraska’s Banner County, predominately sells his harvest to commercial elevators that serve the birdseed industry. He says he typically plants his proso millet in the first two weeks of June and has it delivered to customers before October – a quick turnaround that he’s grown to depend on over the years.
“Proso millet is a consistent crop when it comes to production,” Barrett says. “The weather has to be far tougher than it usually is for my proso millet to be a total failure. I also like it because of the ground cover its residue provides, which is important because of the wind we get during both the winter and spring seasons.”