Connection Spring 2015 - Page 15

Visit sorghum. checkoff.com/ press-releases for industry news BRINGING SORGHUM INTO THE FUTURE E By Wayne Cleveland ntering into its seventh year of existence, the United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP) has gained momentum as a market driving force, an innovation lab for producer profitability and an example of how “helpings oneself ” or endearing a selfhelp commodity checkoff program can save an industry. When the USCP was implemented in 2007, the sorghum industry was at the bottom — literally. Acres had drifted from a high of 16 million in the United States to a low of 5.5 million. The acre loss was a clear reflection of a decrease in profitability on the producer side and a waning market for what was considered an inferior product as compared to other starch sources on the buyer side. Sorghum was quickly becoming a niche market, only finding refuge in end-users that could purchase at 80 percent the value of corn. To further exacerbate the problem, yield was stagnant, and this was the final blow in a series of events. The old saying, “corn sells itself, sorghum has to be sold every day,” was very applicable. Sorghum was neither being “sold” into markets nor preferred by buyers. At the time, the sorghum industry had been reduced to being funded on less than $1 million, which included research, promotion, education and legislation. As a result, the industry had a total of five employees. Other commodities enjoyed much larger budgets and well-staffed offices. The board of directors at National Sorghum Producers (NSP) and Texas Grain Sorghum Producers (Keith Bram and AJ Kresta, both of El Campo, are board members) realized the dilemma sorghum was in and, over a period of several years, developed a plan to take advantage of the 1996 Generic Research and Promotion Program, which allows commodities to start self-help checkoff programs to benefit producers of that commodity. With a resounding yes — 82 percent of producers of grain sorghum in Texas said they would invest in such a program — came the birth of the USCP and advent of the rate of six-tenths of Checkoff increases production, marketability one percent of the value that all producers pay when they sell their grain sorghum. The board insisted that the rate be attached to the price of the grain so that when producers had a good year the checkoff had a good year and vice-versa. As predicted, sorghum acres have increased on an annual basis. New markets have been developed such as in China, where an incredible 75 percent of all grain sorghum produced in the United States finds a home at a premium basis and where serious gains have been made to increase productivity and profitability. Additionally, grain sorghum now enjoys a market presence in the human food consumption industry, which is primed for a product like sorghum, which is gluten free and provides a high level of anti-oxidants. If acres are a result of the checkoffs’ past actions, then the stories that are posted at sorghumcheckoff.com/press-releases/ are a clear indicator of where the industry is headed. A few instances include: Sorghum Exports Reach 300 Million Bushels; Checkoff Invest $3.65 Million to Further Producer Profitability; Sorghum U Teaches Producers; Sorghum’s Five Year Genetic Program; Leadership Sorghum Class Announced; and more. In addition, USCP has made major advances in promulgating a recessive gene that enables grain sorghum to produce up to double its current capacity by maintaining all three spikelets just prior to the blooming stage. The USCP has also been critical to the movement and adaptation of non-GMO, over-the-top herbicide resistant strains that will bring sorghum into the realm of 21st century farming. Although many advances have been made in a relatively short period of time, USCP remains committed to making grain sorghum a profitable crop that both growers want to grow— and make a tidy profit—and end users want to use as it increases their productivity. 15