After 13 national titles and two Bin Buster awards, Ki Gamble was inducted into the NSP Yield Contest Hall of Fame. Ki’s winning attitude goes further than the field and is present throughout the small community the Gamble family lives near.
No matter what he is doing, he’d be very good at it just because he is very driven to succeed and achieve, and where he really shines is here on the farm.”
That is how Kimberly Gamble describes her husband Ki who is National Sorghum Producers’ first recipient of hall of fame honors through the NSP Yield Contest in the conventional-till irrigated division.
Ki said his first love is farming, and he started out growing his own farm right after college, renting four irrigated quarter sections from a gentleman south of Greensburg, Kansas. His family settled in the area in 1909, and the couple now lives on the quarter of land first purchased by his great-grandfather.
The Gamble family has learned to harness the potential of the Harney Silt Loam soils found in their area of southwest Kansas. Ki said while his forefathers relied on summer fallow wheat, improved farming techniques allowed grain sorghum to come into the mix—first entering the rotation on his family’s farm when he convinced his father to grow it in 1980.
“Milo is very drought tolerant,” he said. “You can still come up with a good crop with limited rainfall. Whether it rains during the summer or not, if you go in with a full profile, you’re going to have a good milo crop.”
Kimberly said the farm is not in the right place to compete in the corn yield contest—albeit, the pair has been very successful in that contest, as well—but she feels they are in the perfect geographic region to compete with grain sorghum.
Ki said unlike the corn yield contest where you can count ears and kernels to create a yield estimate that is close to accurate, sorghum is a guessing game that has taught him patience for a crop he treats exactly the same as the rest of his farm acres.
“We don’t grow milo just for the contest,” he said. “You have to have patience, and you have to enter the contest. You get there with the combine, and sometimes you have a bust and sometimes you have it really good.”
Ki and Kimberly Gamble have chalked up wins in the reduced-till irrigated and irrigated food grade divisions in addition to the conventional-till irrigated, winning all-in-all 13 national first, second and third place titles and two Bin Buster titles in 2007 and 2013 for the highest yield in the contest.
The Gambles’ success is only as good as the success of the entire farm, however. The farm has grown from 480 acres to 7,500 with 34 irrigated quarters, and Ki said a large part of their financial success is the ability to directly market their grain to end users.
Kim and I firmly believe you can have the most successful farm on paper, but you don’t have a successful farm unless you give back to the community.
“We try to cut out the middlemen,” he said. “All of our sorghum bushels historically have either went to ADM milling in Dodge City where it is milled into a flour that is used as a paste for wallboard, to the ethanol plant in Liberal [Kansas] or through ADM grain, loading unit trains to go to China.”
Ki said marketing every crop bushel directly to the end user and having on-farm storage saves him a lot of money.
“In this game today, pennies are tight. Pennies are very tight,” he said.
Ki admitted this approach does take money away from his local cooperatives and other businesses, but he feels the money they are able to save allows them to give back in other ways.
“Kim and I firmly believe you can have the most successful farm on paper, but you don’t have a successful farm unless you give back to the community,” he said. “We are actively involved in community groups and organizations, funding them and helping them out with some of the money we save going to end users.”
Ki’s involvement in his community dates back to the mid-1990s when he was first elected to the Greensburg School Board and was president of the board when tragedy struck his tiny western Kansas town on May 4, 2007. An E-F5 tornado was considered the most destructive of 25 tornadoes that broke out across the central part of the United States that day, and Ki said Greensburg was completely wiped off the map.
“People lost everything they had, literally lost everything,” he said. “Our farm got hit too, but we still had a house to live in, which was more than 95 percent of what the rest of the community had.”
Ki said the rebuilding process was slow and challenging. In an effort to bring back main street businesses to Greensburg, the Gambles were one of five initial investors who put up $50,000 toward a rebuild Greensburg campaign. Other donations followed, and eventually Greensburg was back on the map.
“If you have a disaster like that in a community, you will have people who step forward who were really not giving people before,” Ki said. “Kim and I tithed at church and we gave to things, but once you lose everything, it skews your view of what the world is about and we are far more giving now than we were before then.”
Ki said it has been 11 years, and there is still cleanup that needs done around the farm. Whatever allowed the Gambles to keep farming from one year to the next was the strategy to rebuilding at home.
“You had to rebuild the essential stuff first,” he said. “A new farm shop was first. We had to put the grain bin facilities back, and you had to start with the things you could not live without.”
Ki said his family even lived in their house for two years with plywood patches over holes in the roof, then it was another three or four years before they began fixing damage inside the home in order to get the farm back to operational.
Today, the Gambles’ son Kasey is actively engaged in the farm and their daughter Katelynn hopes to relocate there, as well. Ki said he believes it is a dream of every parent to have their children return to the family business and be successful—a hall of fame honor in itself.
“The ability to pass our farm down to another generation, and it’s built big enough that it can support two families with both of my children,” he said, “it don’t get no better than that.”
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine as a feature article.