Revised April 2022
Proso millet (Panicum miliaceum) is one of many crop species classified as millets. Millet is a term used to categorize a wide range of small-seeded cereals, most of which are not closely related. Proso millet is thought to be one of the earliest cultivated grains, likely preceding wheat. It was probably first domesticated in one or more regions of China. It was cultivated in what is now Turkey and southern Europe since prehistoric times. “Proso”, however, is an ancient Slav name used in Russia and Poland, which helps indicate the wide range of the grain’s early distribution. Proso millet, like many of the other millets, is adapted to marginal lands with limited fertility and water availability during the growing season. FAO crop production statistics groups all millets, so it is not possible to identify areas of the world where proso millet is specifically grown. Millets in generally, however, are important crops in west Africa, India and China. Proso millet was first introduced into the eastern Atlantic Coast of the U.S. from immigrants from Europe in 1875 but is now generally grown in the Great Plains.
Proso millet has also been called common millet, hog millet, broom corn, yellow hog, hershey and white millet. Proso millet is a warm-season grass capable of producing seed in 60 to 100 days after planting. Because of its relatively short growing season, it has a low moisture requirement and is capable of producing food or feed where other grain crops would fail.
In 2020, U.S. farmers produced 16.8 million bushels of proso millet on 725,000 acres, which was up substantially from the 9.21 million bushels produced in 2020, due to an increase in acreage and higher yields. The average price per bushel was $8.92 per bu making the total crop value $150 million in 2021. The largest producing states are Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota. Because of its relatively short growing season and tolerance to summer temperatures, proso millet is often planted as an emergency cash crop for situations where other crops have failed, been hailed out or were never planted due to unfavorable conditions. Proso millet may also be beneficial in a crop rotation. In a rotation, it has the advantage of enhancing weed control, especially with winter annual grasses in winter wheat. Proso is versatile in that it can be successfully grown on many soil types and is probably better adapted than most crops to “poor” land, such as land with soils having low water holding capacity and low fertility. Proso millet has high water use efficiency and can produce a crop with only 13 or 14 inches of water. The planting rate is 20-30 lbs of pure live seed per acre and the crop is drill planted, rather than being planted in wide rows.
Proso millet seeds do not mature uniformly and shattering of early ripening seeds is a common problem. Swathing before threshing is preferred to harvesting the standing crop. Growers should begin swathing when seeds in the upper half of the panicle have matured. Seeds on the lower half of the panicle will continue to mature and dry in the windrow before threshing. The grain should be stored at 13 percent moisture or less. If harvested at higher moisture content, the grain can be artificially dried.
When feeding to livestock, grain should be processed to crack the hard seed coat, allowing for better livestock digestion. For swine and poultry, proso millet, like most other cereal grains, should be supplemented with lysine and checked for adequacy of calcium and B vitamins.
The grain may be cleaned and further processed and used for bird seed. Some proso millet undergoes a dehulling process to supply both human and animal needs.
Proso millet grain can be used for human consumption, livestock feed, and bird seed - a common use in the United States. Although proso millet is considered an ancient grain and is gluten free, its adoption for use in the food market in the U.S. has been slow relative to others ancient grains. Millet is desirable for human food because it is easily digestible and gluten-free. It can be ground into flour, used to bake flatbreads, used to make tabbouleh, or for brewing beer. The composition and feed value of proso millet for cattle and swine is generally considered equal to grain sorghum or milo (and corn when less than 50 percent of the ration’s corn is replaced). It contains 12% crude protein, 8 % crude fiber and 76% total digestible nutrients.
About 15-20% of the proso millet produced in the U.S. is typically exported, generally as feed. The largest export markets are the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan. Senegal and Angola, have been important markets where proso millet is used primarily as human food.
Nearly all proso millet grown in major production areas is white seeded. Red-seeded proso has some demand but is best grown with a contract or specific market identified. Millet for birdseed purposes also is often grown under contract. Historically, prices have been higher than corn or sorghum, although prices can vary considerably from season to season.
- National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Quick Stats, USDA.
- Crop Production Summary, 2022, USDA National Ag Statistics Service (NASS).
- Crop Values Annual Summary, 2022, USDA NASS.
- Foxtail and Proso Millet, Progress in New Crops, 1996.
- Millet, Colorado Department of Agriculture.
- Proso Millet in Colorado, USDA Regional IPM Centers Information System.
- Proso Millet (Panicum miliaceum L.) and its potential for cultivation in the Pacific Northwest, U.S.: A review, 2017, Frontiers in Plant Science.