Sorghum Update.jpg

Photo by Kylene Scott.

The Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association hosted a series of roundtable meetings across western Kansas Dec. 1 and 2 with a positive message in light of an uptick in price.

Jesse McCurry, executive director of KGSPA, told attendees in Garden City, the association has a multitude of benefits and aims to help sorghum growers, but it’s much more than that.

“But also just farmers that are standing up for their crop because nobody else is going to do it,” McCurry said. “And it's a competitive landscape.”

When he thinks about markets and different opportunities available for sorghum, he’s optimistic.

“I mean clearly we're seeing some pretty extraordinary basis at the moment and expect to have some nice gross growth and acreage, and at the same time we've really, I think, done a good job of getting more people involved in our organizations.”

McCurry, along with his KGSPA staff and their board of directors, has been working to breathe new life into sorghum, as well as working hard on the legislative side.

“We've been pushing hard in Topeka for things like legislative research,” he said. “The state has a water plan just like they have a transportation plan and the objective is to try to keep it intact and not have it get raided for paying the bills for other things.”

With the Ogallala Aquifer and the overlay of sorghum acreage in western Kansas, McCurry said it’s important for those in Topeka to realize the importance of Plains agriculture and transportation infrastructure that “exports the innovation that’s out here.”

“We're pretty proud to try to grow the footprint in this part of the state because, frankly, we don't have enough connections with enough sorghum growers like we'd like to,” he said. “I'm glad that a lot of you guys are here with the hats that you're wearing because you know growers that may not be plugged into our system.”

Sorghum growers in southwest Kansas might not know about some of the market opportunities or even policy wrinkles out there and McCurry hopes to change that. On the state side, ethanol is something that’s important to KGSPA as well as a number of water issues.

“Ethanol policy is really important. There's still some real challenges,” he said. “And it's challenging for the ethanol plants with the basis situation we're seeing at the moment, but at the same time is sorghum’s got this real unique fit and sustainability.”

Sustainability is nothing new, and sorghum fits in many scenarios and often doesn’t get credit for its versatility as a crop.

“There's some reasons why, but we also need to understand more about how our producers are growing sorghum,” McCurry said. “What they're doing new and innovative or how they may be using NRCS programs.”

At the national level

Tim Lust, CEO of National Sorghum Producers, also participated at the roundtable in Garden City, Kansas. Lust stressed the importance of policy and the upcoming changes in Congress, but he first started with the market aspect of sorghum. Demand has been impressive in the last few months, with very strong weekly export sales.

“That's got basis discussions at a level in my 27-year career we haven't seen,” Lust said. “Certainly as we look at what that means I think that means in areas of western Kansas and areas where maybe water is a little lighter in some circles that there are some opportunities for some discussions that haven't been had.”

Lust also stressed the importance of getting seed orders in early because in an industry of moderate size like sorghum, seed companies aren’t planning for much excess inventory when it comes to seed production.

“If the seed industries are planning for 25 to 30% overage in terms of seed production that only amounts to a million and a half to two million acres,” Lust said. He doesn’t worry about seed companies running out of seed, but if producers have a favorite hybrid they may want to be ordering it as early as possible.

And remember, the U.S. supplies not only seed for American farmers, but also seed for much of the world.

“This is the time that Mexico is ordering seed. This is the time that Ukrainian is ordering seed,” Lust said. “It's a competitive process, not just among domestic growers but internationally.”

As far as changes in Congress due to the election, Lust said it’s going to be a busy time in Washington the next two weeks as Congress tries to finish out the session.

“Lots of discussions going on in terms of not only appropriations process, but some stimulus discussions,” he said. “Certainly there are some areas that we've been working on.”

Looking forward to next year, there’s a lot of changes in leadership, and Lust feels comfortable with Kansas Senator-elect Roger Marshall and the relationship the organization has had with him.

“(We) feel very honored and positive about what those opportunities are there moving forward,” he said.

Looking at the big picture from a committee structure change, Lust sees the big loss of Sen. Pat Roberts and on the House side the loss of Congressman Collin Peterson and others as significant.

“Anytime you lose three of the four committee chairman—2021’s going to be a huge education situation not only for our commodity but for everybody in terms of Washington DC from an agriculture standpoint,” Lust said. “Obviously, as we look at what looks like to be a new administration in transition there.”

There will likely be new individuals coming in and that can be challenging in a normal year, but Lust sees all of agriculture working through the changes; not just sorghum.

“With all due respect to the individuals in the cabinet offices that have worked their tails off to deliver programs over the last year now,” Lust said. “Everything's not been a well oiled machine in terms of implementing some of these programs with COVID.”

Lust foresees groups like NSP spending a lot of time trying to work through the issues and helping growers through the different processes when programs are implemented.

“I think when we look at new leadership on the House and Senate ag committees those are individuals that we certainly, for the sorghum industry, have had a long standing relationship with,” Lust said.

He thinks that when it comes to the posts up for grabs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and there’s been a lot of discussion with the new administration about sustainability and how the programs will be implemented.

“I'll just tell you our staff spends a tremendous amount of time on this topic,” Lust said. “Our real question is this going to be driven by private industry—the Amazons of the world, the Googles of the world—is this going to be driven by the government?”

Lust questions whether that’s going to change the landscape for agriculture, and the NSP leadership is going to be spending a lot of time on those kinds of topics, especially topics like sustainability.

“Everybody's got a different answer and definition of it, but I think the real question is the trade associations, like ours, that are playing defense,” he said. “There's knowing what bills do or do not impact their commodity and then there's embracing and kind of playing offense and leading the fact that we do have a crop that is extremely well suited from a sustainability standpoint.”

That becomes a slippery slope between an incentive based program and a mandate as to what happens on each farm. Lust is looking for input from sorghum producers on this subject.

On the regulatory front, Lust said there’s a few things to talk about, including approvals on some pesticides.

“We've got some long term challenges with Atrazine and Roundup, and both just came through the ESA preliminary process, and those were not pretty,” he said. “I'll just tell you they were very ugly and continue to have a big challenge on getting these pesticides re-registered.”

This process is not an exciting part of the policy world, but it’s very important and a critical part of both.

“It's one of those things that we will continue to work on as we go forward because particularly a product like Atrazine for our crop, if you lose that product, the next replacements probably $15 an acre more,” Lust said. “That's a loss, not just for that individual farm but frankly that's a loss of U.S. competitiveness.”

For more information about the KGSPA visit https://ksgrainsorghum.org/.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or kscott@hpj.com.

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