What Your Checkoff Dollars Are Funding: Texas Tech Taking Lead in $1.6M Sorghum Project

Texas Tech University is taking the lead in one of the largest projects ever funded by the United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP).

Krishna Jagadish, a professor and the Thornton Distinguished Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, received $1.6 million in funding in partnership with Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service locations in Lubbock and Manhattan, Kansas, and industry partners. Haydee Laza, an assistant professor of plant physiology in the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, is also a co-investigator on the project.

Titled “Transforming grain sorghum’s climatic yield potential and grain quality through traitbased ideotype breeding,” the project is designed to maximize the sorghum crop by determining effective trait combinations for different environments.

“The project brings together major public sorghum improvement programs in the U.S.,” Jagadish said. “The trans-disciplinary team aims to achieve the project goals by integrating agronomy, crop physiology, breeding, machine learning and crop and climate modeling.”

Over the course of the project researchers, led by Jagadish, hope to develop trait-based ideotype sorghum hybrids specifically targeted to thrive in water-deficient areas and in areas considered favorable for growing sorghum.

“For the first time in modern history, we have an opportunity to reimagine the architecture of the plant and how it operates,” USCP CEO Tim Lust said. “From drought tolerance to photosynthetic efficiency, this stellar team of physiology experts will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of a more productive, efficient sorghum plant for our farmers.”

The project is scheduled to last five years and incorporate a number of students seeking both master’s and doctoral degrees, giving it the added benefit of helping train the next generation of leaders in the sorghum industry.

“This project is timely and will be a difference-maker as we strive to improve crop resilience and feed the world,” said Plant and Soil Science Department Chair Glen Ritchie. “The collaborators on this project are top experts in sorghum physiology and stress tolerance and they will make a global impact with their success.”

Strengthening Relationships with Global Trade Teams

Each summer, the Sorghum Checkoff partners with the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) to facilitate trade team visits that include international sorghum buyers and end-users from across the globe who tour sorghum states and various parts of the industry. U.S. sorghum industry experts and representatives also visit countries interested in sorghum use to strengthen existing trade relationships and foster new opportunities with potential buyers, creating enhanced interest and market demand for U.S. sorghum.


USGC recently hosted representatives from the Sorghum Checkoff and Texas Sorghum in Vietnam. This region has the largest animal feed market in Southeast Asia with a demand of over 30.1 MMT for grain in 2021. There is tremendous growth in the commercial feed market with numbers expected to eclipse 35 MMT. The Sorghum Checkoff hosted a grain traders dinner
in Ho Chi Minh City where 75 grain traders and industry professionals attended the event. In addition to the regular meal, the USGC team collaborated with a local chef to serve sorghum Bahn My (a traditional French-Vietnamese sandwich) using sorghum flour. The trade mission marked the first official visit by the U.S. sorghum industry to Vietnam since U.S. sorghum gained market access in 2020.

The pathway for U.S. sorghum market access to Vietnam was finalized in May 2020, following the completion of a pest risk assessment and nearly three years of close collaboration between USGC, the U.S. sorghum industry, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

A group of representatives from the Xiamen Mingsui Grains and Oils Trading Co. spent time in Kansas and Texas in October, learning more about U.S. sorghum and its benefits. While in Kansas, two group members had the opportunity to speak with Kansas sorghum producer Kevin Kniebel about the crop quality while on his farm and then gained insight into the U.S. export system and quality grading during the group’s visit to parts of Texas.


USGC’s China office took part in the third China International Companion Animal Food Ingredient Conference (CAFIC III) from August 15-17. USGC hopes that by participating in the event it will be able to extend the U.S. sorghum market from feed and baijiu into pet food, and the barley market from malt into the pet food industry.

At the conference, Florentino Lopez, agricultural consultant with Creando Mañana, LLC, offered a global outlook on sorghum production, supply and demand, followed by Brian Younker, a new board member on the Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission, who shared insight on planting progress in Kansas and sorghum production and marketing. Additionally, Sorghum Checkoff’s Lanier Dabruzzi MS, RD, LD, addressed the nutritional value of sorghum for human consumption and how the United States has embraced this as a new consumption trend.

“The United Sorghum Check-off Program, Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission and Texas Grain Sorghum Producers Board have been essential partners in facilitating successful virtual programs over the past few years,” USGC director of global programs Emily Byron said. “This partnership ensures our global customers have continuous access to information about U.S. sorghum quality, pricing and availability.”

Export Exchange

USGC and their partners hosted the biennial Export Exchange in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Oct. 12-14 where buyers from around the world came together to learn about U.S. grain production, including sorghum. The 2022 event featured more than 500 international customers from 50 countries and nearly 300 domestic suppliers of U.S. coarse grains and co-products, including distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS). Domestic suppliers were in attendance to answer questions and facilitate trade. Sorghum Checkoff Executive Director Norma Ritz Johnson spoke about the advantages of sorghum and looked ahead to opportunities next year.

Export Exchange allows the Sorghum Checkoff to reach prospective buyers from around the globe. Additionally, the Sorghum Checkoff, along with state sorghum organizations, hosted buying teams from Turkey, Spain, Kenya and Mexico.


Following Export Exchange, a team of DDGS and sorghum importers from Mexico traveled to Texas with the opportunity to converse with producers while touring sorghum farms. During this post-tour, participants saw firsthand U.S. sorghum production areas, visited ethanol plants, learned about DDGS production and made connections with grain cooperatives and elevators.

Members of this team represented 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, which accounts for 17 percent of the feed production in Mexico or 5.76 MMT. Mexico is the fourth largest producer of livestock feed worldwide, accounting for 33.87 MMT of feed. Of this total, Jalisco, Sonora and Michoacán contribute to a combined 31 percent of overall production in Mexico. U.S. sorghum exports to Mexico more than quadrupled from last year, totaling 361,000 MT. Overall, the U.S. market share in Mexico has remained high, as geographic advantages continue to make the United States the best supplier for most major agricultural goods.

Mink Joins Sorghum Checkoff as Compliance Director

The Sorghum Checkoff recently named Garrett Mink as the organization’s Compliance Director. In this role, Mink is responsible for all aspects of compliance for the United Sorghum Checkoff Program including on-site collections and compliance activities and first-handler communications and feedback efforts.

The Sorghum Checkoff is excited to welcome Mink to the role and believes she will be a valuable resource, filling a much needed role for the Sorghum Checkoff to ensure effective compliance of agreements and assessments. Mink transitions to the Sorghum Checkoff from her position as the Director of Operations at National Sorghum Producers.

“This is an exciting time to join the team at the Sorghum Check-off,” Mink said. “I hope my efforts will continue to maintain an excellent program that is in good standing with the Agricultural Marketing Service and meeting the needs of sorghum farmers.”

Sorghum Checkoff Names Leadership Sorghum Class VI Members

After an extensive search, the United Sorghum Checkoff Program has selected 15 members to participate in Leadership Sorghum Class VI, a program designed to develop the next generation of sorghum leaders and industry advocates.

“The Sorghum Checkoff uses this program to prepare sorghum advocates and leaders at the local, state and federal level,” Leadership Sorghum Program Director Shelee Padgett said. “Leadership development is critical to the sorghum industry’s advancement, and we are so excited to equip Class VI with skills to advocate for their operations and the sorghum industry as a whole.”

During the 14-month leadership program, class members will have the opportunity to experience various aspects of the sorghum industry in addition to personal development and net-working opportunities. Through both hands-on and class-room-style learning experiences, class members develop an understanding of how sorghum moves through the value chain, how checkoffs and stakeholder organizations interact on behalf of the industry and what the future holds for sorghum.

“Leadership Sorghum has exposed me to every aspect of the Sorghum industry. I enjoyed meeting other producers who are passionate about sorghum,” Class V graduate Brian Younker said. “We were able to bounce ideas off one another to help all of us grow and market the crop more successfully. During our time together, we were able to network with sorghum industry professionals and learn everything from planting the seed to exporting the crop globally. After completing Leadership Sorghum, I plan to continue to be involved with all things sorghum. Sorghum has and always will be a profitable crop for our farm.”

Participants of the Leadership Sorghum program will begin their experience with their first session in December at the USCP Annual Board Meeting. For more information about the Leadership Sorghum program, visit LeadSorghum.com.

Leadership Sorghum Class VI will consist of 15 farmers from 8 states. Those selected include:

Jimmy Diamond | Akron, Colorado

Jeremiah Nicholson | Dodge City, Kansas

Clint France | Scott City, Kansas

Brad Haynes | Hays, Kansas

Henry Martin III | Texico, New Mexico

Lee Dunn IV | Edenton, North Carolina

Brad Brainard | Enid, Oklahoma

Ashley Tucker | Enid, Oklahoma

David Hunsberger | Mifflintown, Pennsylvania

Hunter Bevill | Claude, Texas

Nicole Johnson | Canyon, Texas

David Barrett | Sinton, Texas

Trey Beyer III | Portland, Texas

Jessica Robertson | Robstown, Texas

Joel Huesby | Touchet, Washington