KansCAT Research Fellow Contributes to Sorghum Sustainability Efforts

Sanders Barbee shares her experiences collecting data and promoting sorghum’s sustainable attributes.

Article By Sanders Barbee

As sustainability has recently been pushed to the forefront of our minds, many policymakers, industries and researchers have been searching for sustainable agriculture solutions. That’s why more research into grain sorghum’s inherent sustainability could lead to a multitude of new avenues for sorghum growers.

As this year’s Conservation and Sustainability Fellow at Kansas Grain Sorghum, I intend to help map that path. I am a junior at Kansas State University studying agricultural economics with a specialty in pre-law, and I am on the executive board for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences chapter at K-State.

I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, with no exposure to agriculture until high school when I began attending agricultural summer camps. These camps were simply ways to fill my summers, but I became increasingly interested in the ongoing story of agriculture and began to intentionally seek out programs like the Vet-Step and AgriTrek camps at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

I learned how vast and full of promise agriculture really is. Of course, not growing up in agriculture seemed like a setback, but my peers who grew up in the industry were always very welcoming and eager to help me join.

In fact, the more I learn about agriculture, the more passionate I become about it as a way of life and the more aware I become that my non-traditional background in this work may actually count as one of my greatest assets.

My time with Team Sorghum has been an exciting mix of new and unique learning opportunities. I have met Members of Congress and their staff, researched and prepared policy memos and interfaced daily with National Sorghum Producers, the Sorghum Checkoff and sorghum farmers.

Throughout this spring, I visited sorghum operations to help further my understanding of the industry and chat with the individuals driving its progress. In 2021, I have developed a working knowledge of 10 grain sorghum production to assist with my capstone project—building NSP’s community and market partnerships to leverage the creation and application of a technology platform, KansCAT, for conservation of soil and water systems in Kansas.

The KansCAT project focuses on emerging methods of farming grain sorghum for conservation of air, soil and water systems in Kansas. Our work has three main objectives: deploy a database for storing and assessing practice information; increase conservation literacy of farmers for the industry to remain modern and efficient; and, leverage conservation practices for value in low carbon fuel markets through added-value ethanol. All three of these objectives keep farmers in mind to secure sorghum’s future in the fields. Simply put, sorghum is essential in terms of environmental sustainability and conservation.

For my role in KansCAT, I continue to interact with Kansas farmers to survey and sample their farming methods and document records such as production and yield reports, fertilizer applications and other important aspects of production. Kansas farmers have maintained their land for generations and they often see their stewardship efforts as commonplace; however, from my non-traditional perspective, they are speaking on aspects that are completely novel to me as well as to others still unfamiliar with all the extraordinary work that they do every day of every year. The farmer’s story can be one of the farm’s most powerful tools.

I continue to learn so much when speaking to our farmers. Quite often, the things we talk about seem mundane and routine to them but are completely intriguing to me. One of the biggest lessons that they have taught me is appreciating and cherishing the fruits of your labor (which, in their cases, are very much tangible berries). Hard work and practice cultivating one’s craft will always yield a positive outcome, no matter the task.

Another recurring theme I continue to hear is being open to change in order to stay productive and dynamic. T he theme is as true in today’s rapidly accelerating world as it was when humans first started sowing the earth. Through my work with KansCAT on Team Sorghum, I have gained knowledge and perspective into the jobs of Kansas farmers, jobs they instead see as lifestyles built on hard work, determination, and leadership.


This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.