After almost 10 years working with the United Sorghum Checkoff Program and National Sorghum Producers, Justin Weinheimer, Ph.D., stepped away from his role as crop improvement director at the end of 2021 while Kira Everhart-Valentin has stepped down from her role as the sorghum industry’s first-ever sustainability director.
After almost 10 years working with the United Sorghum Checkoff Program and National Sorghum Producers, Justin Weinheimer, Ph.D., stepped away from his role as crop improvement director at the end of 2021. Weinheimer returned to full-time operations with his family business, Weinheimer Construction
“Justin has been a valuable asset to the sorghum industry through his role as crop improvement director for the last decade,” NSP CEO Tim Lust said. “I appreciate the working relationship he held with the sorghum research community and that he excelled partnering with private industry to improve sorghum.”
Justin leaves the organizations with many accomplishments, including leading a groundbreaking partnership with Pioneer in breeding technology that led to the discovery of doubled haploid in sorghum, which speeds up the breeding process in sorghum research. He also formed partnerships with seed companies that led to the launch of herbicide-tolerant sorghum technologies that are now commercially available to farmers.
“Working on behalf of sorghum farmers was a true honor and a highlight in my career,” Weinheimer said. “Sorghum has a bright future, and the people that work for it hold a genuine passion for agriculture by working tirelessly to better the crop. I am truly blessed to have been a part of the great accomplishments the Sorghum Checkoff and National Sorghum Producers have made over the past decade.”
Other successes include helping the sorghum industry form its first-ever joint position on biotechnology. He also shepherded the industry through one of the most unknown agronomic times, since the discovery of the green bug in 1968, in sorghum history with the arrival of sugarcane aphids in U.S. sorghum in 2013. His leadership led to millions of dollars invested to address the pest issue, plus new stewardship guidelines, pesticide technologies and tolerant hybrids. Weinheimer also contributed to new regulatory approvals that enabled trade with countries like Vietnam.
Kira Everhart-Valentin has stepped down from her role as the sorghum industry’s first-ever sustainability director, a role she began in February 2020. “Kira hit the ground running with a specific drive to build a sustainable program,” Lust said. “She is to be commended for her commitment to start a program, and a position, for our organization from scratch and develop it to the point she did in two years. She did it with tremendous vision, without a roadmap, and was able to seamlessly hand it to the next leader.”
Everhart-Valentin launched the first formal sustainability program for the U.S. sorghum industry and is attributed to successful sorghum partnerships with collaborators in the climate, sustainability and ecosystem services market space like Field to Market, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Trust in Food, The Nature Conservancy, Cotton Incorporated, NRCS and more.
“Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my time in the role of the director of sustainability has been seeing how our own industry has continued to grow and respond to the many challenges growers are facing,” Everhart-Valentin said. “I have watched as the sorghum industry has truly stepped up to the plate to tackle these challenges in meaningful ways that are beneficial to the environment and climate while also making sense on the farm. Sustainability has gone from being a vague term that generated confusion, to something that our industry regards practically as a way to continue to farm in a more efficient, economic and resilient way.”
Everhart-Valentin also spearheaded the successful launch of the Sorghum for BIRDS partnership with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever and conducted a first-of-its-kind remote sensing project to benchmark sorghum sustainability.
“I have worked with sorghum for a number of years now, and the more that I watch it perform in farmers’ fields and serve as a key ingredient to an increasingly diverse number of products, the more convinced I am that it has a very important role to play in our future,” she added. “Its ability to thrive in challenging environments while also serving as such a versatile source of protein and nutrition position it to be a key tool for us all in the face of climate change and growing populations.”
Everhart-Valentin worked in the sorghum industry for a number of years prior to joining the Sorghum Checkoff as sustainability director beginning with serving Western Kansas farmers and businesses. Before that, she managed a global program on sorghum and millet with partners across nine different countries.
“It takes someone unique in the sustainability role to understand the grower side as well as the consumer side, and through her experiences and unique talents, Kira balanced that very well,” Lust said. “We wish Kira the best in her future endeavors, and thank her for her contributions to Team Sorghum.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.