Seeds of Leadership

Women Shaping the Future of Sorghum

The women who serve on the National Sorghum Producers and United Sorghum Checkoff Program boards each bring unique perspectives and skillsets to the table providing them distinct opportunities to shape the future of the industry.

Article by Haleigh Erramouspe

To face new challenges and bring innovation into the future, it takes diverse strengths and talents. This is displayed by the women who serve on the National Sorghum Producers and United Sorghum Checkoff Boards.

Amy France, Kim Baldwin, Tracy Zink and Macey Mueller all exhibit qualities many value in industry leaders—they are all confident, articulate and thoughtful women with a passion for sorghum. However, they each have distinct roles on their farming operations as well as in their lives that bring rich, diversified opinions and experiences to the boards on which they serve. From their early experiences in agriculture to their education and careers, all four women offer distinct perspectives on sorghum and their vision for the future of the industry.

Amy France

Amy France serves as the vice chair on the NSP board of directors. Now a passionate advocate for agriculture, this was not always a path she envisioned for herself. Amy’s parents were music educators, and she started her endeavors in agriculture as an adult when she met her husband Clint. The first 10 years of their marriage, she worked off the farm in real estate lending. At that juncture, her husband asked her to join their operation in Scott City, Kansas.

“We couldn’t afford to hire anyone, and he needed cheap labor,” Amy joked before taking a more serious tone. “But really, I thought, ‘If this is going to be our sole income, I really need to know a whole lot more than what I know today,’ so I got involved.”

Clint was a member of Kansas Farm Bureau at the local and county level, so Amy thought this would be the best place to start. She served on their local board and then got involved with their Young Farmers & Ranchers program where she served as chairwoman for a year. This role allowed her to be an ex officio member of the state board of directors for Kansas Farm Bureau—her first inside view of the role policy had in agriculture.

Despite the immensity and complexity of the policy, Amy’s interest was sparked, so she dove in headfirst, ready to learn. From that position, Amy was nominated to participate in Partners in Advocacy Leadership, an American Farm Bureau Federation program designed to accelerate advocacy and professional development for young farmers and ranchers.

“That’s when I really got into the meat of things, especially the policy driven stuff,” Amy said. “I love that stuff, really honing in on the policy side of things. I’m one of those who has to be eyeball deep in something to really understand and absorb, whether that’s in the cow pen or in the field, and this experience gave me the chance to do that with policy.”

On the farm, Amy’s primary role is record keeping, or “driving the desk” as she likes to call it. She manages bill pay, reconciling elevator tickets and paperwork at the NRCS and FSA office. While many of these tasks are second nature now, Amy said she struggled at first. She was surrounded by folks who had been doing these tasks all their life, and, fortunately, those same people were more than willing to answer all her questions.

This perspective as someone new, working to learn all she could about the industry, is something Amy said gives her an advantage when advocating for agriculture and sorghum on Capitol Hill.

“We see the disconnect between our congressmen and the actual farmer because we speak different languages,” Amy said. “I used to see my lack of farm background as an extreme disadvantage, but now I see it as an advantage because I can bridge that gap between talking to somebody who was born and raised on the farm where it’s second nature to somebody that has the same questions I did and maybe they won’t be as intimidated by me.”

Amy knew this was the most impactful role she could have to help her family farm and rural communities—trying to make a difference in the policy that drives decisions on the farm. This passion is what has driven her to serve and is now what is fueling her to prepare for her future role at NSP. While she knows the challenge of balancing family and service, she also knows that the work being done today will pay off for the next generation.

“It’s a commitment and sacrifice I’m willing to make—missing some things today to make sure our farm keeps farming tomorrow,” Amy said. “There were great people long before me, and there will continue to be great people because NSP just attracts those kinds of people. They make sure all voices are heard, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Kim Baldwin

Kim Baldwin serves as the treasurer of the Sorghum Checkoff board. She and her husband run a diversified operation in Inman, Kansas—a lifestyle similar to how she grew up.

Kim grew up in central New Mexico where her family had a commercial cattle operation and produced alfalfa to supply local dairies and equestrian farms, not to mention the slew of pigs, goats and sheep they had for 4-H and FFA projects. She received her undergraduate degree from New Mexico State University in agricultural extension and education with an emphasis in ag communications and a minor in journalism. After working for the PBS station in Las Cruces and the NBC affiliate in Albuquerque, she took a short-term teaching position near where she grew up. While it was only meant to last through the end of the year, she ended up teaching for the next 17 years.

It was during this period that she met her husband Adam, and moved to Inman, Kansas. Adam and his family have traditionally grown wheat, corn, soybeans and sorghum. They also started growing popcorn in 2017. Kim took on a marketing and communications role for the operation with a particular emphasis on the direct-to-consumer popcorn portion, Papa Baldy’s Popcorn & Sorghum.

“I do a lot of work directly with consumers,” she said. “People have questions, and they want to know where their food comes from. It’s different than taking a truck load of grain to the elevator and unloading it to be done with it. People are not only interested in what they’re putting into the bodies of their kids and of themselves but also their pets and their animals.”

In her time on the board, Kim has had the opportunity to see how marketing has pushed sorghum forward on a domestic and international scale. From sorghum making its way onto the USDA Food Buying Guide for child nutrition programs to participating in a trade mission in China, promotion has played a key role in the current and potential expansion of new markets for the crop.

“It’s a really exciting time to be on the board,” Kim said. “There are so many market opportunities both domestically and internationally from human consumption and pet food to aquaculture and beyond. It’s exciting to watch as the country and world begin to know more about sorghum.”

Prior to Kim’s term, her husband served on the Sorghum Checkoff board, as well. While he was in this position, Kim said she would sit in on some of the meetings and observe, which gave her a good idea of the responsibilities and duties the role entailed before she began. This has also created a unique learning opportunity at home to show their children that a family farm truly does mean the entire family.

“I have two kids, one son and one daughter, and it’s been really important for them to see the roles men and women can play in agriculture,” Kim said. “Back in the day, Dad was gone because he was attending meetings and now Mom is attending. But you know, when we have a trade mission team that comes out to the farm, it’s important for our kids to see how both mom and dad are working.”

These are the perspectives Kim brings to the Sorghum Checkoff board—teacher, marketer and mom. While this is her expertise, she has appreciated the opportunity to hear the thoughts of others who specialize in different areas through the robust, but respectful, discussion that occurs around various industry topics at the meetings.

“What I’ve really enjoyed about serving on the [Sorghum] Checkoff board is those different perspectives of the board members who come to the table and provide their insight and expertise within different areas that fall under the umbrella of sorghum and agriculture,” Kim said. “I think those different perspectives create healthy, well-rounded discussion to help us to spend checkoff dollars as responsibly as possible.”

Tracy Zink

Tracy Zink is one of the newest members of the Sorghum Checkoff board— appointed in December 2023. However, the conversations around the table were by no means new to her. Tracy was born and raised on a farm in Indianola, Nebraska, in the southwest corner of the state. She now runs the diversified operation with a rotation of sorghum, corn, soybeans and wheat.

“I’ve gotten the nickname Ms. Sorghum around here,” Tracy said through a laugh. “People really started paying attention to sorghum during the extreme drought years when we had our combine in the field and few others got theirs out. We use a pretty strict rotation, mostly because our limiting variable is water. We can’t really play for the markets. We have to play for what creates the best opportunity for a solid yield and a hopeful profit.”

While Tracy always knew she would come back to the farm, she left after high school to get “far, far, far away” and dive into her other passion—sports and athletics. From that point, until she returned to the farm in 2011, that was her whole life. She worked in sports management, coached volleyball, ran YMCAs and led senior fitness programs. While the connection between farming and exercise and nutrition sciences would be a stretch for some, Tracy easily saw the correlation.

“Fitness was my thing. Your diet matters, as well as your exercise routine, your health, your sleep…everything,” Tracy said. “I used to do it with people, but now I do it with plants and our soil. Rather than a diet and exercise program for a person, I’m figuring out what nutrients or fungicides I need to apply or determining the best populations, biologicals or timing. It’s been a great analogy to use for non-ag folks.”

A third-generation farmer, Tracy has taken on the primary operator role on the farm as her parents age. While her role is ever-changing, Tracy made sure she could do any task on the farm that needed to be done. Whether it was running the combine (her favorite), planting, sales, marketing, inventory or anything else, she can and has done it all. In this role, Tracy still taps into her science background by implementing trial plots on the farm.

“I always have multiple trials in each field,” Tracy said. “The maps are colorful and can be confusing, but we’re honing down and narrowing in on what really matters and what’s best for our farm. We’re having fun, and I’m excited about that.”

Tracy has also been naturally inclined toward leadership and involvement. She was able to tap into this strength when she discovered Nebraska LEAD, an agricultural leadership development program in the state.

“For me, LEAD is what created the realization that agriculture is a true and complex profession and not just not just a job,” Tracy said. “It really instilled in me that to be part of a profession, a great responsibility comes with it.”

It was through LEAD that Tracy was introduced to opportunities in the sorghum industry, and she knew she had found a good fit. She was attracted to the bit of underdog spirit the crop has as well as the opportunity to be involved in a more close-knit group.

Tracy knows she is in a unique position compared to other young producers in the industry. She said although she is not married and was not blessed with children, this has opened the door for her to really invest her time in leadership opportunities such as serving on the Sorghum Checkoff board.

“I’m really excited about the Sorghum Checkoff,” Tracy said. “I knew immediately it was a professional organization, they would allow me to grow and they would encourage me to participate, and I greatly respect that. It’s already been a great experience, and I’m excited to maximize my term and make a difference.”

Macey Mueller

Macey Mueller has been a member of the Sorghum Checkoff board since 2021. She grew up on a commercial cattle operation in Kansas before attending Oklahoma State University where she earned her degree in agricultural communications.

After graduation, she spent several years living in Oklahoma City, working as the communications director for Oklahoma Farm Bureau. She had some exposure to farming, just from growing up in a rural community, but she was not immersed in the industry until she married her husband Josh in 2015 and moved to his family farm in Halstead, Kansas.

“I’ve learned a lot having been married now for over eight and a half years,” she said. “You’re just trying to put the different pieces together because it is such a complex industry, whether it’s the agronomy side or the marketing side, there’s just a lot to it. I’ve tried to take the things I know from the livestock side of things and apply those or ask the same kind of questions on the farming side.”

The Mueller’s farm is a blend of crop and cattle production, and they also own a sale barn in a town about 50 miles from their home. Add in four children and freelance writing for several livestock publications, and Macey has a full schedule. She does the books for both the farming and cattle enterprises and helps in the fields and with the livestock. Additionally, she works the Thursday sale and manages the marketing and social media for their sale barn.

A good portion of the crops grown on their farm are used for silage or grazing in a backgrounding operation for their cattle enterprise. Through this, the Mueller’s were able to develop a market for niche direct-to-consumer beef sales. While it started as a means for neighbors to put aside a quarter or half of a beef to stock their freezer, the Mueller’s saw a sharp rise in new customers during the pandemic and have enjoyed using the opportunity to connect with individuals who want to know more about agriculture.

With her current role in their operations and former career working for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, it was natural for Macey to join Kansas Farm Bureau when she moved back to her home state. This is where her involvement in the sorghum industry started. As a county Farm Bureau board member, she was introduced to staff members at Kansas Grain Sorghum.
Macey’s husband had spent several years on the Kansas Beef Council, which gave her a strong appreciation for checkoffs and what they do for commodities. Combining this understanding with her background made Mueller an incredibly strong candidate for the Sorghum Checkoff board.

Macey also had a unique connection to the sorghum industry through her children. Her youngest daughter has celiac disease. This diagnosis opened her eyes to the world of gluten-free foods and diets—a world where sorghum plays a key role in helping individuals maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

“As a woman involved in farming, I think that lends itself to some different perspectives and different ideas on things,” Macey said. “Additionally, as a mom of a child with celiac and someone with a background in communications and livestock production, I think there’s just some different ideas I can bring to the table. Our board has so many unique skillsets to offer, and that allows us to make the best decisions and to help promote and educate others about sorghum.”

In addition to her place on the Sorghum Checkoff board, Macey serves as one of the board’s delegates to the U.S. Grains Council (USGC). While serving in this position, she has gained a greater insight into and appreciation for how U.S. sorghum helps to feed and fuel people around the world. This role has also exposed her to the work the USGC is doing to promote sorghum globally and develop new markets for the crop.

Whether it has been around the board room table in Lubbock, traveling to Latin America with the USGC or attending nutrition conferences to share the health benefits of sorghum, Macey said her favorite part of serving on the Sorghum Checkoff board has been the opportunity to learn from those around her.

“I just really appreciate the opportunity to represent Kansas producers in this type of role and to work with other board members from the Sorghum Belt,” Macey said. “That’s been another really exciting part of this journey is just getting to know other folks involved in the industry and to learn how they operate. Sorghum just has this collaborative spirit, and we are all taking the chance to learn from our peers.”

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, National Sorghum Producers extends its recognition and gratitude to the remarkable contributions of Amy France, Kim Baldwin, Tracy Zink and Macey Mueller, along with all the women shaping the U.S. sorghum industry. These four women exemplify leadership, resilience and innovation, bringing diverse perspectives and expertise to the boardrooms of NSP and USCP. Their dedication and passion not only advance the sorghum industry but also inspire future generations of women in agriculture. We celebrate their achievements and honor their invaluable contributions to our industry.


This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.