Sorghum Checkoff Newsletter – Spring 2018

The Sorghum Checkoff recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary at Commodity Classic. However, that’s not the only thing to celebrate. The Checkoff also recently named a new communications manager, got promising results back on their duck-feeding trial, and identified a new market for sorghum with Fieldale Farms in the Georgia area.

Written by: Elisa Alvarado

Sorghum Checkoff Celebrates 10 Years of Innovation

The Sorghum Checkoff kicked off its 10-year anniversary celebration with growers at Commodity Classic when a new Generation Sorghum video and Sorghum: The Smart Choice™ logo were unveiled along with educational resources for producers, showcasing the organization’s advancements over the past decade. This year, the Sorghum Checkoff reflects on a decade of innovation in sorghum genetics and breeding, market expansion, increased research efforts and educational resource development and distribution.

“The Sorghum Checkoff was originally started so it could collectively do what individually the groups that existed at the time could not,” said Tim Lust, Sorghum Checkoff CEO. “The industry at that point in time had significant needs from a research and development standpoint, and the Sorghum Checkoff was an avenue to accomplish these goals and carry out the work needed to improve the industry.”

Investments in crop improvement led to ground-breaking technology for sorghum, such as the discovery of doubled haploid inducer lines, which will allow new hybrids to reach farmers’ fields faster than ever before. The Sorghum Checkoff collaborated with organizations like DuPont Pioneer, Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission and Texas A&M AgriLife Research to seek out attributes, qualities and other factors in sorghum capable of increasing productivity and demand.

“We have made great strides in research, technology and market opportunity thanks to producer investments,” said Verity Ulibarri, Sorghum Checkoff chairwoman. “The Sorghum Checkoff will continue to listen and work with producers and industry partners to meet the needs of our growers and pursue opportunities that make sorghum a smart choice.”

The Sorghum Checkoff recently received an independent evaluation that analyzed the organization’s role in providing positive returns on investments for sorghum producers. The evaluation examined the Sorghum Checkoff’s investment into program areas such as crop improvement, high-value markets, food and industrial uses and renewables.

Crop improvement investments demonstrated a slight increase in sorghum yields, moving from an average 57.6 bushels per acre from 1960-2008 to an average 65.2 bushels per acre during the time of the checkoff program (2008-2017). The farm value of U.S. sorghum production increased by an average of $12.6 million per year during that same time period, given estimated production and price impacts of Sorghum Checkoff investments. These investments show a tangible benefit to producers evidenced by the evaluation that for every Sorghum Checkoff dollar invested in crop improvement, the net return to producers was $8.57.

Efforts by the Sorghum Checkoff to invest in food and industrial uses have also been successful as sorghum use in these markets increased by an average of 6 million bushels per year from 2008-2017. This equates to a total of 47.8 million bushels of additional sorghum sales since the checkoff began.

Demand for sorghum in food, alcohol and industry increased significantly since 1975, jumping from an average use of 16.7 million bushels between 1975-1998 to an average of 86.6 million bushels between 2018-2017. This increase in demand can be seen through the growing number of retail food products containing sorghum, which now totals more than 1,000. Sorghum is also included on 1.7 percent of restaurant menus across the nation, an eightfold increase over the last four years, and popular restaurant chains like Chick-fil-A and Papa John’s now include sorghum on their menu.

“Sorghum continues to be of high interest to buyers in the consumer food market as demand for ancient and gluten-free grains continue to rise,” said Doug Bice, Sorghum Checkoff market development director. “The Sorghum Checkoff has worked to not only raise awareness of sorghum’s use in this industry but has also worked to make sorghum available to consumers for purchase.”

The Sorghum Checkoff’s investment into high-value markets and renewables combined to enhance the farm value of sorghum sales by $107.4 million. The net return to the producer in this area is nearly $11.60 thanks to investments in research and promotional programs.

Sorghum: The Smart Choice™ was featured at the JAG 350 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in Forth Worth, Texas, as a result of the Sorghum Checkoff’s investment in the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP). The Sorghum Checkoff, Texas Grain Sorghum Producers Board and Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission invested a total of $250,000 into the program as a way to aid states in delivering higher blends of renewable fuel by nearly doubling the number of blended fueling pumps nationwide, significantly increasing the market for sorghum use in ethanol. The Department of Energy invested nearly $90 million in sorghum through the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) program over the last two years alone. Sorghum is being researched as a model feedstock through the Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) program.

In addition to research and market investments, the Sorghum Checkoff developed educational tools and resources to assist producers in sorghum management. The Sorghum Checkoff developed regional production guides, livestock feeding guides and information sheets on specific topics like water use, sugarcane aphid management and exports to educate farmers on best-management practices. On, more resources can be found for producers in the Agronomy Library, which houses information on a wide array of agronomic topics, such as seeding rates, tillering, heat stress and the use of harvest aids, to name a few.

“I am proud of the work we have done as producers and board members to advance our crop and management practices,” said Jim Massey, Sorghum Checkoff vice chairman. “This year, we celebrate a decade of hard work and dedication in the sorghum industry and look forward to more progress and growth to come.”

The release of an updated Sorghum: The Smart Choice™ logo extends the brand utilized by the Sorghum Checkoff to relay the message that sorghum is a smart choice for producers, livestock feed, ethanol and other new, growing markets.

The Sorghum Checkoff celebrates 10 years of innovation alongside sorghum producers. It is thanks to our farmers’ dedication to the industry and investment in the grain that has made these achievements possible.

Duck Trial Results Reveal New Market for Sorghum

More than four years ago, the Sorghum Checkoff set out to find new, high-value market opportunities for sorghum producers when the expansive duck market in Asia caught the eye of several producers. In 2013, China produced 694 million layer and broiler ducks for market, opening an opportunity for the inclusion of sorghum in their nutrition programs. In an effort to enter this market, the Sorghum Checkoff partnered with the U.S. Grains Council to begin a two-year duck feeding trial to examine the use of sorghum in duck nutrition programs.

“We were on an international trade mission when the idea first came up to explore sorghum’s use in feeding ducks,” said Adam Baldwin, former Sorghum Checkoff board director from McPherson, Kansas. “In looking at the potential size of the market for U.S. producers, we wanted to move forward but quickly realized there were no research studies done with ducks and sorghum.”

The Sorghum Checkoff board of directors decided to conduct a duck feeding trial, and the results were recently made available. Two separate trials were conducted to investigate meat duck and layer duck production with sorghum substituted for corn in treatment rations.

The trial revealed positive results for ducks that consumed feed rations made with sorghum. Meat ducks fed a ration where sorghum was the main energy source, completely replacing corn, had the highest weight gain efficiency and the lowest feed cost. When a portion of corn was replaced with sorghum in the layer duck rations, egg weight and productivity were maintained. Sorghum inclusion in duck rations reduced feed costs, and as a result, sorghum can be cost-effective for both duck meat and egg production to meet consumer demand in Asian markets.

“Due to the size of the international duck market and these positive trial results, sorghum’s use in duck nutrition programs is a great market opportunity for producers,” said Kim McCuistion, Ph.D., Sorghum Checkoff animal nutrition director. “This feeding trial was the first step to accessing this new market for growers and educating potential buyers across Asia.”

The Sorghum Checkoff will continue to educate international customers on sorghum’s nutritional value in duck feed and will begin to promote its use overseas. For more information on the results of the duck feeding trial, visit

Fieldale Farms Provides New Opportunity for Growers

Grain sorghum production in the U.S. is expanding in the southeast corner of the country thanks to strategic market development efforts in Georgia and the surrounding states. Targeted meetings with producers and businesses are taking place with the intent to increase production and meet demand for new markets. One market in particular, poultry and broiler nutrition programs, is kick-starting the regional growth with the help of Fieldale Farms.

Fieldale Farms is a family owned and operated poultry production corporation. Serving customers who desire poultry products raised on locally-sourced and sustainable products, Fieldale Farms collaborated with the Sorghum Checkoff to utilize grain sorghum in their poultry feeds. As a drought-tolerant crop with lower input costs than comparable grains, sorghum is a perfect fit for in their nutrition programs and local growers.

“Our interest in alternative feed ingredients has been ongoing for 20 years,” said Dave Wicker, Ph.D., Fieldale Farms nutritionist and vice president of live production. “Our recent interest in sorghum came when we looked at sorghum grown in eastern North Carolina and thought if it could be grown in that region then maybe we can grow it here.”

Wicker and others at Fieldale Farms spoke with the University of Georgia Extension and other livestock nutrition programs to find alternative crops that would fit well in crop rotations for local farmers. With a customer base who desires poultry raised on local grains, Fieldale Farms started examining grain sorghum and its potential to be successfully grown in the region. After reading other sorghum trials and production research from similar areas, Fieldale Farms decided to partner with the Sorghum Checkoff to reach out to local farmers to consider growing sorghum. Fieldale Farms is currently seeking as much grain sorghum as they can gather for their nutrition programs.

“It makes an excellent fit since it has lower input costs, drought resistance, different herbicide and pesticide needs, and it fits in the rotation for many winter-time crops,” Wicker said. “Plus, the people that buy our chicken love it because it’s supporting local farmers.”

The Sorghum Checkoff partnered with Fieldale Farms over the past year to provide not only nutritional information for optimal inclusion rates, but also to provide growers with production informa tion and best-management practices. Sorghum Checkoff staff met with Fieldale Farms and several local growers from the region to host an educational session covering topics, such as planting dates, hybrid selection, pest management, herbicide treatments and regional market opportunities.

“We met with producers and talked to them about how to grow grain sorghum since many of them have never grown sorghum before,” said Brent Crafton, Sorghum Checkoff regional development director. “We also wanted to educate producers not only on the market opportunity with Fieldale Farms but also on other opportunities in the region, such as consumer food.”

Over the coming year, Sorghum Checkoff staff will continue to provide producers in the area more management information on scouting techniques, harvest and storage. The Sorghum Checkoff will continue to work with Fieldale Farms and local producers to facilitate sorghum production and marketing opportunities in the region, creating more options for growers in the expanding region.

Sorghum Checkoff Welcomes New Communications Manager

The Sorghum Checkoff recently named Shalin Pinkerton as the organization’s new communications manager.

In this role, Pinkerton will provide and implement strategic communications planning for all non-consumer program areas, such as crop improvement, agronomy and renewables. Pinkerton will also assist in other related organizational programs and projects for the Sorghum Checkoff.

“We are happy to have Pinkerton join Team Sorghum again,” said Jennifer Blackburn, Sorghum Checkoff external affairs director. “With Shalin’s previous experience as an intern with the Sorghum Checkoff and a growing passion for the industry, we believe she will be a great asset in advancing our communications efforts.”

Pinkerton will graduate in May with her bachelor’s degree in agricultural media and communication from West Texas A&M University. She will also graduate with a Leadership Certificate obtained through the Rogers LEAD WT program. Pinkerton was previously a communications intern for the Sorghum Checkoff and National Sorghum Producers where she gained valuable insight into the sorghum industry and day-to-day communications operations. Through this opportunity, she was named WTAMU 2017/2018 Intern of the Year.

Additionally, Pinkerton has gained communication experience through internships with the Texas Pork Producers and Triangle Realty. In preparation for her new role, Pinkerton also attended the 2018 Commodity Classic with Team Sorghum. She will begin with the Sorghum Checkoff mid-May.

Pinkerton steps into this role previously held by Elisa Alvarado. She and her husband, Trey, recently moved to Big Spring, Texas, where Trey took a position as student pastor at a newly planted Hillside Christian Church campus. The Sorghum Checkoff wishes the Alvarados the best as they take this exciting, new step together!