Sorghum Checkoff Newsletter – Summer 2018

The Sorghum Checkoff visits Mexico and China in conjunction with the U.S. Grains Council. USCP also sponsored the first ever dietitian sorghum farm tour and participated in an international conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

Written By: Shalin Pinkerton

The Sorghum Checkoff works in conjunction with the U.S. Grains Council each summer to devel­op and expand global markets for sorghum by establishing a number of trade missions. Approximately 30 trade teams comprised of more than 200 visitors from Australia, China, Columbia, Egypt, Japan, Korea, Mexi­co, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Taiwan have visited the U.S. to learn more about sorghum.

U.S. sorghum industry representa­tive teams selected by the U.S. Grains Council also visit other countries and seek to grow international market­places by strengthening existing trade relationships and to foster new ones with poten­tial buyers. With the U.S. being the top exporter of grain sorghum, accounting for nearly 75 percent of global trade, these collaborations help promote the value of U.S. sorghum across the globe and contribute to an increase in market demand, ultimately strength­ening producer opportunities.


This year’s domestic trade mis­sions kicked-off June 18-22 with a visit from several young Mexican feed-millers and importers to the U.S. The team visited parts of Kansas and Texas to explore leading areas of sorghum production and learn more about export logistics. Members of this team represented the upcoming generation of sorghum end-users in Mexico from the National Association of Food Manufacturers for Animal Consumption (ANFACA) and compa­nies in central and northern Mexico, including the state of Jalisco, the number one livestock producing state in the country, and Michoacán and Sonora. Mexico is the fourth largest producer of livestock feed worldwide, accounting for 33.87 million metric tons of feed. Of this total, Jalisco, Sonora and Michoacán contribute to a combined 31 percent of overall production in Mexico.

The tour included visits to sor­ghum suppliers and producers, feed mills, elevators, a rail facility, an eth­anol plant and the Port of Houston. The visit focused on educating Mex­ican buyers about U.S. sorghum pro­duction, marketing and accessibility.

“Touring the Sorghum Belt and visiting sorghum farms allows the international buyers to learn cur­rent information on not only the U.S. crop condition, but also the global market situation,” said Shelee Padgett, Sorghum Checkoff regional director. “Meeting face-to-face with the farmer helps the buyer better understand the opportunities and challenges for our crop and pro­vides an environment to build last­ing relationships.”

The country of Mexico accounted for $103 million in exports of U.S. sorghum, equating to 568,254 metric tons (22.4 million bushels), during the 2016-2017 marketing year. Mexico remains one of the chief importers of U.S. sorghum, only second to China in purchases.


Following the Mexico team visit, a team of seven Chinese end-users made stops in Texas, including two sorghum farms, a multi-facility grain company, the Port of Houston and a global merchant for agriculture commodities. After they visited Texas, the team headed to Kansas where they toured multiple sorghum farms, an ethanol plant and an enterprise with feed milling and a livestock operation.

The team learned about sorghum production, buying strategies and developed relationships with U.S. sorghum suppliers at all levels of the value chain as sorghum demand from China rebuilds following trade challenges in early 2018.

“U.S. farmers pride themselves in maximizing production quantity and quality of their sorghum crop,” said Florentino Lopez, Sorghum Checkoff executive director. “In the same way, end-users work to exceed expectations of their final products made from U.S. sorghum.”

“These programs allow end-users and produc­ers to share common values and create lasting relationships supporting long-term growth in ex­port markets which can be seen by our increased export commitment now exceeding 50 percent of total sorghum production.”

China became a top customer for U.S. sorghum during the 2013-2014 marketing year, obtaining a value of $1 billion in sales since then. These trade missions hosted by the Sorghum Checkoff and the U.S. Grains Council aid in maintaining this invalu­able market and help facilitate continued trade with countries around the world.

Maintaining an open line of communication with buyers and end-users of the U.S. crop re­mains a priority of both the Sorghum Checkoff and industry partners such as the U.S. Grains Council. A better understanding of U.S. sorghum produc­tion assists in building future sales and increasing buyer trust.

 Sorghum Checkoff Sponsors First Dietician Farm Tour

The Sorghum Checkoff sponsored the first ever dietitian sorghum farm tour during the To­day’s Dietitian Symposium May 20-22 in Aus­tin, Texas. The tour was led by renowned dietitian and Sorghum Checkoff partner Sharon Palmer, an award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, au­thor and blogger. Nearly 50 dietitians from across the U.S. gathered to learn more about sorghum production practices and sustainability with James Kamas at his farm in central Texas. Wayne Cleve­land, Texas Grain Sorghum Association executive director, and his wife Kathy treated the group to lunch with a menu featuring a variety of sorghum items, including charcuterie with sorghum crack­ers, corn and sorghum tortillas, sorghum molasses glazed chicken pops, pearled sorghum tabbouleh and sorghum lime cookies. Sorghum Checkoff staff also shared sorghum’s nutritional and culinary ben­efits with the group.

“With the advent of the buy local mantra from consumers, this event was a great way for us to connect directly with the experts who make nutri­tional decisions for many such consumers,” said Doug Bice, Sorghum Checkoff market development director. “Based on the positive response from the dietitians on the tour, this type of event is another successful avenue to bridge agriculture and consumers.”

Following the tour, the Sorghum Checkoff hosted a booth at the Today’s Dietitian Sym­posium where staff shared information and samples of a Watermelon and Arugula Sorghum Salad and Wondergrain’s Three Bean Salad. The farm tour and exhibit at Today’s Dietitian Sym­posium provided new opportunities to show­case sorghum’s benefits from field to plate. The Sorghum Checkoff will continue to seek momen­tum-increasing opportunities to share the sor­ghum story with this important audience.

Global Sorghum Conference: Sorghum in the 21st Century

The Sorghum Checkoff participated as a core sponsor for Sorghum in the 21st Century, an international sorghum conference, in Cape Town, South Africa, on April 9-12. More than 400 attendees from over 40 countries in the global sorghum research community gathered for the conference. Eighty-five attendees represented the United States. Justin Weinheimer, Ph.D., Sorghum Checkoff crop improvement director; Brent Bean, Ph.D., Sorghum Checkoff director of agronomy; Jennifer Blackburn, Sorghum Check­off external affairs direc­tor; and Martin Kerschen, Sorghum Checkoff board director from Garden Plain, Kansas, attended the event. The overarch­ing theme for the con­ference was “Food, Feed and Fuel in a Rapidly Changing World.”

The program was the first of its kind in more than 20 years and held talks on five cross-cut­ting themes:

  • Accelerating progress in advanced breeding for improved crop adaptation to climate risks
  • Improving productivity and increasing profitabili­ty to expand opportunities across global markets
  • Enhancing resilience in the face of biotic and abiotic challenges
  • Tackling key issues in food security and farming systems for improved livelihoods for the small­holder farmer
  • Exploring the future of the value-added nu ­trition, biofuels and feedstuffs for evolving consumer demands.

These five themes were explored through topical sessions, and a multitude of profession­al development opportunities were offered to attendees throughout the conference.


The conference convened in Africa because it is the country of origin for sorghum. Sorghum originated in Ethiopia around 7,000 years ago before it spread to use throughout the rest of the world. Representa­tives brought perspec­tives from every conti­nent where sorghum is now grown.

“We believe that it is time for the world’s sorghum community to come together around research, industry and opportunity,” said Timothy Dalton, director of Feed the Future Inno­vation Lab for Collective Research on Sorghum and Millet and conference organizer. “The need for cross-border collaboration and exploration of cutting-edge technologies and developments has never been greater.”

The Sorghum Checkoff interacted with the global research community to discuss potential collaborative opportunities to bring value to U.S. growers. Understanding the opportunities for global collaboration ensures the Sorghum Checkoff has access to all available assets and information needed to solve issues faced by U.S. sorghum farmers.

“Many farmers look to sorghum as a key part of their cropping rotation, and to continue that, sorghum needs to maintain its vibrancy and its ability to offer new opportunities for farmers,” said Sarah Sexton-Bowser, managing director at the Kansas State University Center for Sorghum Improvement. “Having a pipeline full of robust new discoveries is critical to fill this need, and this conference has empowered us to deliver results in a relevant and informed way.”

Attendees of the conference were encour­aged to identify global priorities and look to advance sorghum by gathering a synopsis of where the industry is today and how to im­prove through the lens of making an impact at the field level. Sorghum in the 21st Centu­ry provided a global context for those at the conference to gain a deeper understanding of challenges faced internationally.

“Researchers were able to learn their value to the farmer on a broader scale,” said P.V. Vara Prasad, Ph.D., Kansas State University professor and director of Crop Ecophysiology and Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab. “Many innovations have developed in the sorghum industry since the last global meeting held around 20 years ago, so this confer­ence was very timely.”


This year’s conference also placed emphasis on engaging the next generation of sorghum researchers and industry professionals. Grad­uate students from all over the world attended the conference and presented their research. Scholarships were awarded and mentorship was established between the upcoming generation and the more seasoned sorghum professionals.

“Allowing students to showcase their re­search promotes an environment for interaction between the current generation and upcoming generation of young professionals in our global sorghum community, said Vara Prasad. “Events like this are crucial in motivating students to continue in higher education and to make con­tributions to the sorghum communities because they are the future of the crop.”


Researchers across the globe are dedicat­ed to sorghum improvement programs and their minds are aimed at creating opportunities through discovery for sorghum. Sorghum in the 21st Century created an outlet for exchange of ideas and a way to generate improved outcomes for the farmers who feed and fuel the world.

Discussions were held on crop improvement, genetic advancements, consumer needs, market development and much more. Research net­works were formed and will serve as a beneficial resource as the sorghum industry takes next steps together.

“Sorghum has great genetic diversity and recourse, and we are beginning to explore it in a new way with more opportunity than we have in the past,” said Mitch Tuinstra, Ph.D., Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Purdue Universi­ty and Scientific Director of Plant Science Re­search and Education Pipeline. “The crop holds a lot of promise and the future is bright for sor­ghum all across the board thanks to great minds in the global sorghum community.”

Sorghum Industry Events:

Sept. 3 – Labor Day Holiday
Office Closed

Sept. 5-7 – Leadership Sorghum Class IV Session 1
Lubbock and Amarillo, Texas

Sept. 17-19 – National Grain & Feed Assoc. – Pet Food Institute Joint Conference
St. Louis, Missouri

For more events, visit