Member Testimonial – An Investment in NSP is an Investment in US All

Ted Bannister takes pride in his crop and his vital position in the food production chain. Read how an “Investment in NSP is an Investment in Us All” in our Fall 2021 edition of Sorghum Grower Magazine.

Article By Ted Bannister, Hays, Kansas

It is seldom that I, as a farmer, have the nerve to feel proud of my production. I understand that, despite following best practices, my yields and profits can vary by 50-100 percent due to things I cannot control like rain (too much, or too little, or too late), markets, pests, breakdowns, etc.

I must also humbly recognize that, although being the grower makes me a vital part of the food production chain, there are other critical components ahead and behind me getting a seed into the field and out again. I will revisit these components below, but I would like to take this chance to brag about a management part of my farming operation that I DO feel proud of.

I take pride in having a streak of years where I was KICKED OUT of the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA) livestock producer data set. My exclusion happened because my costs were so low that I was considered an “outlier.” KFMA said I was, “so far outside the norm as to question their validity or use in a data set.”

What had I done to achieve this ignominy? I graze my cow herd on grain sorghum stalks four plus months per year. As soon as harvest is done, electric fences go up, and cattle are released onto the crop residue. They happily remain there until the first couple of calves hit the ground (April 1) before coming home for closer attention.

In April, we have some grass greening in the pasture draws, so some moms that just got home have a calf and are back out on grass within a week. While they are home on my groceries, they are eating brome grass made from the conservation waterways hayed from those same grain sorghum fields the cows spent the winter on.

This is how I utilize my environment and my mainstay crop, grain sorghum, to minimize costs and maximize profit in my farm and ranch operation. What makes this system particularly advantageous is that grain sorghum is already the most profitable crop I raise.

I live in Rush County, Kansas, which as I say “is in the middle of everything and close to nothing.” We average 22 inches of rainfall per year (it’s never an average year). The predominant crop rotation in our area is wheat-grain sorghum-fallow.

I use that as the basis for my rotation but tweak it to add more grain sorghum either by stacking it or going sorghum-fallow-sorghum. I also raise some corn and use fallow substitutes like barley, oats or cover crops. Again, grain sorghum is the most profitable crop I raise (some years it is the only profitable crop), evident through my constantly revised budgets and verified by KFMA from the above example.   However, I cannot be too smug about my grain sorghum profitability because, as I alluded to earlier, I am buttressed on both sides of the production chain by groups bigger, louder and smarter than me—the National Sorghum Producers and United Sorghum Checkoff Program.

The seed I put in the ground has the yield potential, disease resistance, environmental adaptation, and now herbicide tolerance, all largely because of these sorghum grower groups. I also have to admit that the price I receive for the grain coming out of my fields is greatly supported not by my branding or the “terroir” (look it up) of Rush County soil, or its packaging I present it in at the elevator.

That price, which is now higher than ubiquitous corn, is supported by these grower groups assuring buyers, domestic and international, about the quality and consistency of my grain, finding new buyers for that grain and finding new uses for it.

When I admit that my profitability (and latent pride) owes so much to these sorghum grower groups and their efforts, it becomes clear that maximizing their success means maximizing my success. That’s why, fellow grain sorghum farmers, I hope that you would look at an annual contribution to National Sorghum Producers not as a gift, but as a vital expense like any other line item in your business.

My KFMA (again with this?) economist tells me year after year about farmers stressed out about having to pay taxes and making year-end expenditures that make no economic sense nor have a return on investment. INSTEAD, why don’t they 1) put their money toward something that generates a positive return (National Sorghum Producers!), and 2) reward that part of your business and industry that allowed you to have that annoying profit (National Sorghum Producers!). Contribute a dollar an acre (!) toward all our success.

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This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.