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Leadership Sorghum program helps farmers take the lead

By Kylene Scott

Leadership Sorghum Class I visited the USDA Grain Inspection, Stockyards and Packers Administration (GIPSA) facility in League City, Texas, to learn more about sorghum grading during program's fourth session July 31, 2013.

Fifteen members of the first class of Leadership Sorghum, sponsored by the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, recently completed the program’s first year.

Seeking to develop the next generation of leaders in the sorghum industry, the program exposed Class I to various aspects of the industry, and the program is important for the future of sorghum.

“Leadership development is an important focus for the future success of any organization and industry,” Lindsay Kennedy, external affairs director for the checkoff, said. “The sorghum industry has been blessed over the years with excellent grower leaders who have helped move U.S. sorghum forward.”

Participants in the program learned about a wide range of topics in both hands-on and classroom settings, giving them an opportunity to learn about all aspects of the sorghum industry. From basic research to international marketing, class members gained an understanding of how sorghum moves through the value chain, according to Shelee Padgett, checkoff regional director.

“We also aim to improve their leadership skills while developing expertise needed to provide leadership for our industry on a community, state and national level,” Padgett said.

The USCP is very proud of the program as it allows participants to gain an understanding of important issues in the industry and see firsthand the impact of sorghum research dollars, she said.

Kennedy agrees.

“Developing a solid network of grower leaders who have a good understanding of all the important segments and issues of the sorghum industry is the foundation of this program,” Kennedy said.

All aspects

In order to expose the participants to all aspects of the industry, tours and sessions are scheduled in locations important to the crop.

“Each session is very ‘hands on’ and interactive and we try to expose the producer to speakers that are experts from business, industry and academia,” Padgett said. “For example, during the international marketing session in Houston, Texas, we toured port facilities. While on the tour a train full of Kansas grain was being unloaded for shipment abroad. This experience was extremely eye-opening for the class participants, especially since it was highly likely some of the grain on the train was grown by class members.”

The sessions helped members see how sorghum moves through the value chain, how checkoffs and interest organizations interact on behalf of the industry and what the future holds for the crop. Through the program, participants also receive professional development training and networking opportunities.

Kennedy reiterated what Padgett said.

“I think participants really get to see the big picture of the sorghum industry—from seed production to research to domestic and international markets to all the little details in between that make this industry run,” she said. “Having that kind of broad perspective of the industry as a whole is important for the next generation of grower leaders whether they become members of state or national level boards and advocate for the sorghum industry in the field.”

Class I

Class I went to the following locations and learned about:

Texas High Plains—Program introduction, sorghum seed industry overview, basic and applied research;

Kansas—Public research, domestic markets for sorghum;

Washington, D.C.—Government’s role in sorghum, checkoffs and interest organizations;

Houston, Texas—Port operations, international marketing, next generation biofuels; and

USCP Board Meeting in Lubbock, Texas—USCP board operations, graduation.

During the first session in the Texas Panhandle, Class I had an opportunity to see an important part of the sorghum production chain—seed production. Since approximately 80 percent of sorghum seed is produced in the area, it was easy to visit many of the nurseries and research facilities.

The group made stops at Chromatin’s sorghum nursery in Idalou, Texas; Pioneer’s research facility in Plainview, Texas; Richardson Seed in Vega, Texas; and NexSteppe in Hereford, Texas. They also heard presentations from Advanta, MMR Genetics and the Ag Research Station that is located in Lubbock, Texas.

Mike Baker, Trenton, Neb., was impressed with the first session.

“I’ve been surrounded by very knowledgeable people and the staff here at USCP, and there have been a lot of different people from here around the nation that bring whole different perspectives to the sorghum growing industry, and it’s been great to talk to them and I’ve enjoyed this a lot,” Baker said.

“That session showed me that there was money being used to research new genetics, which will hopefully help myself and other producers become more productive and profitable operators in the future,” said Stephen Bigge, Stockton, Kan.

The second session held in Kansas focused on domestic markets. The class toured various facilities that used grain sorghum, and visited the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan. There they sampled foods made from sorghum flour and ingredients. Tanner Ehmke, Healy, Kan., realized a couple things about sorghum while on this segment of the tour.

“This time here in Manhattan, what I took away was the importance of the entire industry chain—from the producer all the way to the consumer,” Ehmke said. “Learning where the sorghum goes—whether it’s livestock, whether it’s ethanol, whether it’s baked goods—that’s all where our sorghum is going. And so that ultimately has affected what we do as producers.”

In Washington, D.C., during the third session, the group got a chance to look at the government’s role in the checkoff as well as other organizations. They visited with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service, National Institute of Food and Ag and the U.S. Grains Council.

“Having the ability to come to D.C., and meet with USDA-AMS folks and see how the checkoff process works and also meeting with the U.S. Grains Council and just seeing how our checkoff dollars are being used and spent to help the U.S. sorghum producers become more profitable as we go forward,” Bigge said.

During the fourth session, held in Houston, Texas, the class was exposed to international markets and the next generation of biofuels. The Gulf Coast region plays a vital role in the exportation of U.S. grain, especially sorghum. Class members visited with Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration officials about the grain inspection process and participated in an odor identification exercise. Tours of the Port of Houston Authority and Cargill facility on Houston ship channel showed the program the shipping process from every angle, including a unique observation of a vessel being loaded with grain for export. The group also heard from Mexican grain buyers while in Houston.

Later in the Houston tour the class heard about next-generation biofuel production using sorghum. Speakers helped them gain a better understanding of potential and logistics using sweet sorghum and biomass sorghum for renewable fuel.

Luke Sayes from central Louisiana was impressed by the port visit.

“(We got to) see everything it takes to get your seed sold and shipped off. You know, what we market for,” Sayes said. “This is the end use of what we spend all our time and rack our brains to get it out there.”

Next class

The application process for the next class has already started. Tentatively the schedule is as follows:

February 2014—applications available from the Sorghum Checkoff;

April 30—applications are due to the Sorghum Checkoff;

Mid-May—applicants notified on interview selection;

Late May—interviews with selected applicants;

Late June—Leadership Sorghum Class 11 announced.

Five seminars spread over the course of 15 months are planned for Class II. In September, they will visit the Texas High Plains for an introduction session, seed industry tour, basic and applied research topics. In November, the class will visit Kansas for public research and domestic markets. Class II will visit Washington, D.C., in February 2015 to investigate the government’s role in sorghum, checkoffs and stakeholder groups. In July 2015 the group will visit the Texas Gulf port operations, international marketing, next generation biofuels. Finishing up 2015, in December the class will travel to the USCP Board Meeting to learn about board operations. A graduation ceremony is planned.

“We look to build upon the momentum created by the first class of Leadership Sorghum and carry that into Class II,” Kennedy said. “We will certainly involve the members of Class I for program recruitment and support of the program.”

Kennedy hopes the program will continue to improve and expand.

“I am excited to see this program grow and develop. We are already seeing members of Class I getting involved both as members of state and national sorghum boards and as advocates for the industry,” she said.

“Leadership Sorghum was a great experience, and I would encourage any producer who has a sincere interest in sorghum production to apply,” Bigge said. “It provided me with an opportunity to experience segments of the sorghum industry that most producers may not be able to experience. It provides participants with a wide base of knowledge on the sorghum industry from research and seed production to domestic and export market opportunities.”

For more information about Class II application process and requirements, visit

Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at

Date: 3/3/2014


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