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Growing Pearl Millet, Cultivation Practices For Beginners

Introduction to Growing Pearl Millet

The following information details about Growing Pearl Millet (Bajra).

Pearl millet is used as a summer grazing and a hay crop in the southeastern United States. Pearl millet is one of the high drought resistant grains that are best for commercial production. It grows well in the regions with frequent periods of dry weather during either the vegetative or reproductive phases. There many developments in seeds are millets that are highly adaptable and productive grain pearl millets these are called hybrid varieties that grow well in southeast regions. This crop gives crop producers a best alternative feed grain for dry land cultivation.

Pearl millet crops are more tolerant of sandy and acidic soils than other summer crops. This crop grows well in a wide range of soils compared to other grain crops.  These plants are deep-rooted and need high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and, therefore, may not need the levels of fertility required by other summer grains. These characteristics will make pearl millet’s cultivations a best choice for dryland regions with low investments.

Many on-farm studies and research have proven that pearl millet can give high yields of 70 % or more bushels of grain per acre with good care and management. Severe drought can reduce the yields of pearl millet, but the plant is capable to resist drought for a certain period, that would cause greater yield reductions or crop failure in other summer grain crops. It can be the best choice for double cropping behind small grains and vegetables.

The pearl millets are used in poultry, cattle and swine rations without adversely affecting feed efficiency or weight gain. The total metabolizable energy of pearl millet is like corn. Pearls millets are rich in fibers and protein levels that range from 12 to 14 percent.

Pearl millet originated in central tropical regions of Africa and is widely distributed in the drier tropics and India. It was actually initiated in western countries in the 1850s and became established as minor forage in the Southeast and Gulf Coast states. The pearl millet crops are mainly cultivated as food crops since 4 000 to 5 000 years ago as food crops in southern margins of the central highlands of the Sahara. And then widely distributed across the semiarid tropics of Africa and Asia.

Pearl millet is the best crop for growing in the areas that suffers with drought, low soil fertility, and high temperature. It grows well in soils with high salinity or low pH levels. High tolerance towards to heat and draught makes it feasible crop, it can be the best choice to grow in areas where other cereal crops, such as maize or wheat, would not survive. Pearl millet is an annual crop that grows well in summer and well-suited for well-suited for double cropping and rotations. Today pearl millet is grown on over 260,000 km2 of land worldwide, and it showed that 50% of the total world production of millets.

  • Scientific Name for Pearl Millet: Pennisetumglaucum.
  • Common name for Pearl Millet: Pearl millet, Nyalothi, Ntweka, Amabele, Unyaluthi, Unyawoti, Unyawothi, Inyawuthi, Muvhoho, Babala, Manna, Leotja, Mhunga, and Bulrush millet.

Description of the Pearl Millet plant:

  • Mature pearl millet plant: Pearl millet plant can up to 50 cm to 4m tall and it is capable to tiller in large amount under suitable growing conditions.
  • Stems: Stems of the pearl millet are pithy, tiller freely and produce an inflorescence with a dense spike-like panicle about 35 to 56 cm long or 2cm or less in diameter.
  • Leaves: leaves of pearl millet plants are long, slender and smooth or have hairy surfaces. The leaves may vary in color, from light yellowish green to deep purple. The leaves of the plants are long-pointed with a finely serrated margin.
  • Flowers: Flowering period of pearl millet plants isfrom 40 to 55 days. The flowering structure (inflorescence) in pearl millet is called a panicle or head. The mature panicle has a brown color.
  • Seed: The seed begins to grow after fertilization and matures 25 to 30 days later. The seeds are in a wide range of colors from white, yellow, brown, gray, slate blue or purple in color. The size of the seed is about one-third that of sorghum and the weight about 8 mg on average.

Read: Growing Cowpeas.

Essential parts of Pearl Millet plant:

The grains of millet plants are the essential part of the crop, while the entire crop is used as fodder.

Pearl Millet Cultivation Practices:

Cultivation Practices of Pearl Millet.
Cultivation Practices of Pearl Millet.

Climatic requirement for Growing Pearl Millet

Temperature Requirements for Growing Pearl Millet:

Pearl millet plants are generally a short-day plant, but some varieties of millet plants are day length neutral. These plants sensitive to low temperatures at the seedling stage and at flowering period. High daytime temperatures are needed for the grain maturity. It grows well at the soil temperatures of 23 to 30 °C. Emergence occurs in 2 to 4 days under favorable conditions.

Rainfall Requirements for Growing Pearl Millet:

The pearl millet crop grows well in areas with rainfall ranges from 200 to 1 500 mm, most occur in areas receiving 250 to 700 mm. The lowest rainfall areas are mainly on early-maturing cultivars. Despite its drought resistance, pearl millet requires evenly distributed rainfall during the growing season. Heavy rains at flowering period can cause a crop failure.

Soil requirements for Growing Pearl Millet:

The pearl millet crops do best in light, well-drained loams. The crop can also tolerate poor, infertile soil better than the other grained crops. It doesn’t perform well in clay soils and cannot tolerate waterlogging. It is tolerant of sub-soils that are acidic and high in aluminum content. It can also tolerate soils with low pH levels less than 4 -5.

Propagation in Growing Pearl Millet

An Ideal method for propagating pearl millet is through its seeds.

Pearl Millet Seeds.
Pearl Millet Seeds.

Soil preparation tips for Growing Pearl Millet:

Soil should be prepared well before 4 to 5 days of planting. Get ready with warmer seedbeds on well-drained soils. The seedbeds should be free from weeds. Deep till or in-row subsoil sandy textured soils are used to disrupt any hard pans. In erodible lands or clayey soils, No-till or conservation-tillage plantings can be successful. This can reduce soil erosion and enhance stand establishment owing to better seed depth control in firmer soils and control of emerging weeds prior to planting. If there is no-tilling in the spring, deep tillage ahead of the winter cover crop in the fall is highly preferred. Sometime a reconstitution of the hard pan in sandy soils can be formed, in case of good rainfall during the winter.

Planting tips for Growing Pearl Millet:

Optimum planting time is between early October to November, and this is greatly dependent on the intended use. Soil temperatures should be18 °C or above. If Planting the seeds in cooler soils, that can cause problems with reduced emergence and greater competition from weeds. Planting densities should be similar or slightly higher (100 000 to 175 000 plants/ha) than for sorghum. Seed should be planted into a firm, mellow, moist seedbed. Seeds of pearl millet are very  small, shallow planting is recommended to obtain good seed-to soil contact.

Fertilization tips for Growing Pearl Millet

Millets are generally grown on less fertile soils, these crops give high yields when they are heavy fertilization. These plants are deep-rooted and can use residual nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and, therefore, may not need the levels of fertilization required by other summer grains.Because nitrogen needs are modest, it can be applied as a side dressing rather than preplant. Nitrogen needs can certainly be met from organic sources, such as animal manure or a leguminous cover crop. These characteristics enhance pearl millet’s desirability in low-input, dryland production systems. It is advisable to conduct a soil analysis prior to fertilization.

Irrigation tips for Growing Pearl Millet:

Good irrigation is required for pearl millet’s during growth.Irrigation can improve stand establishment if the soil is dry during and afterseeding. A pearl millet crops don’t require much irrigation than othergrain crops grown in summers. Greatest water use occurs during the bloom and soft dough stages.

Weed control tips for Growing Pearl Millet:

Pearl Millet cultivation required a good weed control system for high yields, and it is particularly important to control early emerging weeds. Preventive control options begin with planting clean, weed-free seed. The farmers should be sure that all equipment used to plant millet is free of weed seeds. Controlling weeds around the ditch banks, roadsides, and field margins can also prevent weed seed from entering the fields to a great extent. Mechanical controls should be used to prepare the seedbed prior to planting millets and where millets are planted in rows for seed, they give producers a head start on weed control. Pearl millet crops are plantedrelatively late, two preplant tillage operations are highly recommended, first to stimulate germination of weed seeds, then, several days later, to kill off weed seedlings prior to planting. If seeds are planted in wide rows, row cultivation for weed control should be planned, especially in case of herbicide used to control weeds is ineffective.

Pest control tips for Growing Pearl Millet:

Grains of pearl millets are not much affected by pests and they’re very few insect pests that affect millet crops. The major insect that attacks the millet production are chinch bugs, stink bugs, nematode and birds. There is no serious need of insecticides on pearl millet crops.

Chinch bug:

These are the female bugs that lay eggs, in summer, that hatch into nymphs within two weeks. The nymphs will suck the sap from host plants. The chinch bug will insert a straw-like mouthparts into the plant tissue and will suck out the plant sap which will inject the chemicals into the plant and clog the vascular system. The affected area will form a puncture that usually turns yellow. At the early stages the damaged areas will be very small and will enlarge when the insect starts to spread.

Tip to control chinch bug: the crop should be inspected for every 5 to 7 days until heading. Apply adequate insecticide after heading.


Stinkbugs are other insects that can affect the pearl millet crop. Stinkbugs will control the development of grain heads. The pearl millet crops are planted from July to August will have more chances to this insect attack. Stinkbug causes small and shriveled seed, which leads to economic yield loss may occur when 15% or more of the grain heads are infested. These insects have needle like mouthparts with which they suck out the plant sap and inject their saliva. As a result, plants become stunted and fruit discolored. Some plant diseases are also transmitted.

Tips to control stinkbugs: Stinkbugs can be controlled using registered insecticides.

Nematodes: Not all the Pearl millet hybrids are resistant to nematodes. Nematodes primarily damages the roots of the plant. The effect of nematodes varies from plant to plants depending on their age. The main symptoms are higher when the feeding occurs during the first few weeks after planting. The plants affected with nematodes have greatly reduced root systems with short, stubby roots having dark, shrunken lesions, particularly at the tips. If the tips of the roots are destroyed, then there in is now chance for the new root formation above the damaged area, resulting in a high-rooted appearance. If the effect of nematodes on the plants is not too severe, constant feeding may recover and produce near-normal yields under optimum growing conditions.

Tip to control Nematodes: crop rotation is highly recommended with nematode resistant crops.

Bird damage

Birds are the major problem for pearl millet crops. Birds will readily consume pearl millet seed off from the plants in the field. The effect of birds on the crops is very severe in case of small fields or when harvest is delayed for an extended period after maturity.

Tip to control bird damage: to control bird a crop monitoring, early planting and timely harvesting is essential to minimize bird damage.

Disease control

Diseases in pearl millets are not severe. The most common diseases that affect pearl millet are mildew, seed rot, rust and grain moulds.Mildew and seed rot diseases can be controlled with an organic fungicide treatment at the time of planting. Follow the labeled instructions before to using the product. Rust can cause major loss in pearl millet crops. Early plantation can minimize chances of diseases attack and grain quality losses owing to rust because rust is a late-season disease. Early planting makes the crop to mature before disease develops. Fungicide applications are not recommended for pearl millet. Grain mouldsis a disease that is developed when grain fill and maturation occur in wet or humid conditions. Grain mouldswill reduce the quality of the grain. It is recommended to harvest the crop as early as possible after maturity, because some grainmoulds will increase if harvest is delayed.

Cultural practices of Growing Pearl Millet:

  • Diseases in pearl millet can also be controlled by implementing some modern cultural practices. The following cultural control practices are economically feasible and have very low disease losses. The cultivator should properly identify the diseases that willnlimit production and then use a variety of controls in combination.
  • Rotation of unrelated crops can be the most utilized cultural practice for controlling diseases. Crop rotation will keep populations of pathogens from building up to damaging numbers. The crop rotation will not eliminate disease development, but it certainly helps in reducing damage from most diseases.
  • Fertilizer application can control the development of certain diseases. This practice can differ with each crop and each disease, but in general, nitrogen out of balance with other nutrients will enhance foliar disease development and predisposes some plants to other diseases. The fertilizer rich in Potash, helps reduce disease development when it is in balance with other elements.
  • Burial for crop residue deep into the soil will help to control certain diseases by placing the organism contained in the residue at a depth where there is an oxygen deficiency. This process the population of the disease-causing organism and helps the crop to escape much of the damage. Planting in a raised bed is helpful in preventing certain diseases like Southern blight and certain of the wilt diseases.
  • Burning of crop residue can cause the destruction of valuable organic matter and creation of an air-pollution problem. But the fact remains, that it is a highly effective means of eradicating any disease-causing organisms associated with crop residue.
  • Removal of diseased plants as soon you find the, is an effective method in helping reduce the spread of a destructive disease. Virus diseases like stone fruit and bacterial wilt of cucurbits are examples where rouging is worthy of consideration.

Harvesting of Pearl Millet

Harvest maturity:

Pearl Millet are harvested as early as 40 days after flowering. When the crop is ripe and dry, grains will pop out cleanly when the heads are pinched. You can harvest the crop, when the seed moisture content drops below15%, but artificial drying for 10 to 12% moisture after harvest is needed to prevent storage molds. Matured seeds come in a wide range of colors, from white to brown, blue to almost purple. Most are slate gray.

Harvesting methods in Growing Pearl Millet Grain

You can harvest the pearl millet by hand, using a knife or sickle. After harvesting the heads should be dried in heaps on the ground or threshing floor. You can also harvest the  by using a combine harvester. Combine harvesting should be adjusted to properly thresh the small seed of pearl millet. If you are harvesting for silage, mechanical harvest and it should be done when heads appear.

Yields of Pearl Millets: A well-irrigated crop yields about 30 to 40 quintals per hectare. While a rain fed crop can yield 13 to 17 quintals per hectare.

Post-Harvest Handling:

Improper post-harvest activities can result in the reduction of seed quality and yield. The grain is tougher and denser when compared to sorghum and can be easily combined, when well dry, using higher cylinder speeds, more air and adjusting the screens for the smaller seed size.

  • Sorting: The grain must be sorted and should be separated from spikelet and other debris. A Winnowing is an best traditional technique that is frequently used, a winnowing is wind blowing threshed seed, thereby separating the grains from foreign materials or debris.
  • Packing: Packing of pearl millet is done with the bags, these must be tightly closed.
  • Storage: If seeds not properly dried, the seeds get molded and germination of grain (sprouts) may occur if grains are not properly dried. It is recommended that the grain should be stored at maximum moisture of 12 to 13% and kept in a cool place. And there are Several factors lead to the loss of both viability and nutrients, owing to insect, bird, rodent and moulddamage. We can also store pearl millets as unthreshed heads in a solidwalledcontainer.
  • Transport: For trucking millet over long distances, it is best to cover the grain to prevent seed loss. Generally pearl millet grains are transported in bulk bags.

Utilisation of Pearl Millet

Pearl millets are used as whole grains, cracked or ground into flour, dough, or a grain-like rice. These grains are fermented into breads, foods and thick porridges, steam cooked dishes, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. Pearl millet grown for silage and hay production in some areas. Crop residue and green plants are used as building materials for fencing, thatching and making basketry.

Nutritional composition of Pearl Millet

The pearl millets contain 5 to 7% oil, and are rich in protein and energy levels when compared to maize and sorghum.



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