Millet can be grown as sole crop, mixed crop or intercrop. In traditional cropping systems, millet is commonly grown with other food crops. The reason lies in the numerous advantages associated with intercropping and mixed cropping, for instance, higher and more reliable yields, better use of resources, and cultural advantages such as better weed control and soil protection.
Most farmers pay little attention to the application of improved cultural practices in millet production, such as green manuring, crop rotation or animal manure. These practices are important in order to prevent further soil depletion, to improve soil fertility and to increase productivity and yield safety of both millet and other crops. Millet responds particularly well to improvements in growing conditions. Improved cultural practices also build the basis for successful organic production.
Pearl or Candle millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.) and Finger millet (Eleusine coracana (L.) (Gaertn) have a similar growth habit. Millet also includes Fonio (Digitaria sp.). Millet is a warm season crop, planted during the early rain season when the soil is still warm. Millet performs well on fertile, well drained soils. However, millet also performs well on sandy soils under acidic soil conditions, and when available soil moisture and fertility are low. This adaptation reflects the origin of pearl and finger millet in the Sahel region of Africa, where growing conditions are difficult. Millet appears to have fast root development, sending extensive roots both laterally and downward into the soil profile to take advantage of available moisture and nutrients. Millet tolerates low soil pH.
Pearl millet can be grown effectively with organic methods for both human consumption and organic livestock feed. Using cover crops or manure to boost fertility, employing cultural weed control, and incorporating crop rotation can allow successful organic production.
Downy mildew, smut, rust and ergot are common diseases where millet is grown. Stem borer, earworm and millet midge are the most problematic pests, but the crop may also be attacked by grasshoppers, locusts, white grubs and various butterflies.
Downy mildew (Sclerospora graminicola) is the most devastating disease. The disease is transmitted through soil, crop residues, contaminated seeds and tools. As a result of infection, inflorescences and glumes become twisted. As the disease spreads most in alkaline soil, reduction of alkalinity also contributes to its control. Preventive application of farmyard manure also reduces the occurrence of disease. The risk of the disease spreading can be reduced by destroying prematurely infested tillers and infested crop residues. As a preventive measure select varieties which are resistant to downy mildew.
Smut (Tolyposporium penicillariae) attacks millet plants during the flowering period after rainfall with air-borne spores. Infections are significant when the humidity of the air and air temperatures are high. This disease should be controlled through preventive measures such as the use of tolerant or resistant plant varieties, by timing the flowering of the crop so that this does not occur during the rainy season and by applying cultural measures that contribute to crop hygiene.
Rust (Puccinia penniseti) and ergot (Claviceps microcephala) show at flowering time. These diseases can be controlled by early sowing, by growing resistant varieties (applies to rust only) and by ensuring a moderate nutrient supply. Prematurely infested plants and infested crop residues should be destroyed.
Birds are the major pest in millet cultivation. Preventive measures against bird attacks include using cultivars with long, hard bristles, as these are attacked less severely than cultivars without awns. Planting pearl millet away from tree lines or woods can reduce risk of damage. Scaring birds away for several weeks before the harvest with efficient bird scaring methods such as nets is essential.
Coniesta igenfusalis is the stem-borer that most affects pearl millet. However, several natural enemies attack this pest at different stages of its cycle. Proper soil preparation and destruction of crop residues, or covering them with soil can help control stem-borers. Crop rotation breaks the pest's life cycle. Mixed cropping of millet with other species also confuses the pest and promotes natural enemies. In the control of cereal stem-borers the “push-pull method” can be applied. Neem application has been also found to be useful.
Millet midge (Geiromiya penniseti) is abundant during the rainy season. The infested grains do not develop and panicles have a blasted appearance. Appropriate rotation with non-host crops and intercropping can reduce pest damage. After harvest, the crop residues should be destroyed. Fields should ideally be ploughed after harvest and shortly before sowing. The spraying of natural pyrethrum is possible, but in general is not economically viable.
Harvest and post-harvest handling
Pearl millet varieties produce seeds ready for harvest before the plant is dried down. Although the seeds are not likely to shatter, it is desirable to harvest soon after seed maturity, as plant dry down allows avoiding unnecessary grain loss to birds. Millet can be stored at maximum moisture of 12-13%. Since the seed size is smaller than sorghum and corn, it is more difficult to force air through it in a grain drier.
Marketing and organic certification
Because pesticides are not applied, millet could be grown organically for the organic livestock feed market. Some pearl millet cultivars have also been developed for their grain and show potential as poultry and livestock feed.