Tim Lust, the current CEO of the National Sorghum Producers and United Sorghum Checkoff Program, is celebrating a remarkable milestone this fall: 30 years of dedicated service to the sorghum industry. During his three decades with NSP, including 25 years as CEO and 15 years as the Sorghum Checkoff CEO, Tim has played a pivotal role in advancing the sorghum industry.
Tim’s journey with NSP began in September 1993 when he joined the organization on a part-time basis. He transitioned to a full-time role in December of the same year, right after completing his MBA from Texas Tech University.
Lust’s initial attraction to sorghum was deeply rooted in his upbringing on a farm in Parmer County, Texas. His family drilled some of the first wells in the area and fed cattle in a region that has become one of the greatest value-added areas to the agricultural industry, but he also witnessed the rapid depletion of irrigation water, which left a lasting impression, showing him early on that sorghum was a sustainable crop with tremendous future opportunity.
Through hands-on experience with various forms of sorghum, from grain to seed to silage, his interest in the crop was strengthened. So, ironically, his entry into the industry was somewhat serendipitous. The previous NSP executive director, Jack Eberspacher, called Tim’s brother asking for recommendations for a qualified candidate to go to work at NSP. Tim’s response was simple, “Well, I have those qualifications,” which led to the start of his journey with the sorghum industry.
Initially serving as the Marketing and Research Director, Lust’s role encompassed both areas. He navigated the challenge of securing research funding from the federal government at a time when resources were limited. On the marketing side, he recognized the need for change in the industry, particularly in working with feedyards on steam flaking. His hands-on experience in a feedyard trying to steam flake milo convinced him there had to be a better way.
Those efforts extended beyond the United States and led to spending considerable time in Mexico between 1994 and 1996, assisting end users in transitioning from central government grain purchases to independent procurement. Additionally, Lust worked closely with the California dairy industry to introduce sorghum as a valuable feed source.
An area Tim is most known for is his policy work and relationships in Washington, D.C., and his transition into that arena was a natural progression. Although he had some exposure to policy and politics through his grandfather, his much deeper dive into policy began in the mid-90s after starting with NSP. He became increasingly involved in federal policy discussions and advocacy, solidifying his position as a key player in the sorghum industry’s policy endeavors.
Over the years, Lust’s role at NSP evolved significantly. He recalls the advice of one of his mentors, Neil Strong, who suggested not staying in one place for more than 10 years. Lust took his advice and, alongside producer board leadership, led radical transformations within NSP during his tenure. The establishment of the national checkoff program in 2008 and the adoption of innovative subsidiary approaches to funding were pivotal moments that reshaped the organization.
Today, as CEO, Lust enjoys the same diversity of his role he experienced in the beginning. He values the opportunity to engage in various aspects of the sorghum industry from fieldwork and research plot tours to congressional advocacy to international buyer relations and business discussions related to NSP’s subsidiaries. His ability to adapt and thrive in different domains has been a crucial asset to both organizations.
Reflecting on his career, Lust cites the 2002 Farm Bill when loan rates were equalized for sorghum, adding $197.2 million to the bottom lines of producers, as one of his proudest moments. He highlights the collective effort of a small but dedicated team, along with volunteer leaders and supporters, who rallied together to achieve a common goal. This collaborative spirit and the ability to overcome challenges have been defining characteristics of Lust’s leadership.
Another significant accomplishment Lust takes pride in is helping find resolution during the trade dispute with China in 2018. His efforts, alongside Congress, those of the entire grain trade community and sorghum producer leaders, all played a vital role in reopening trade channels with China. This achievement not only benefited sorghum producers but also symbolized Lust’s commitment to advocating for the industry’s interests on the global stage.
When asked about his favorite aspect of working for sorghum farmers, Lust emphasizes their genuineness and straightforwardness. Sorghum producers, he notes, are driven by the desire to support a sustainable crop rather than personal ambition. He also acknowledges the well-structured and efficient organizational setup within NSP, a rare find in many similar organizations.
Looking ahead, Lust is excited about the prospect of grooming the next generation of staff to lead the organization. He hopes to delegate more responsibilities and focus on tackling long-standing challenges, such as crop insurance. He maintains an unwavering commitment to the sorghum industry today and attributes his success to the guidance of several exceptional mentors whom he humbly sought out and attentively listened to along the way.
Tim’s 30-year journey with the National Sorghum Producers is a testament to his absolute dedication to the sorghum industry and encompasses a tenure that is rare among major trade association leaders. His ability to adapt, evolve and lead has played a pivotal role in shaping the organization and advancing the interests of sorghum producers. As he looks forward to the next chapter, his passion for sorghum and the farmers it serves remains as strong as ever. His legacy is one of resilience, collaboration and a deep-rooted commitment to the future of sorghum.
Please join NSP in congratulating Tim on an exemplary 30 years with the organization, advocating on behalf of U.S. sorghum farmers and the industry.
As we celebrate Tim Lust’s 30th year with the National Sorghum Producers, we reached out to some of the organization’s past chairmen of the board of directors to gather their thoughts on Tim’s tenure as CEO and the impact he has made so far on the sorghum industry.
Ken Tevis (1998-1999): Ken Tevis, who served as Tim’s first chairman when he became CEO in 1998, reflected on their early interactions. While details from those years might be hazy, Ken emphasized how quickly Tim earned the respect and admiration of those he worked with. Tim’s ability to navigate the complexity of agriculture policy and his unwavering commitment to sorghum stood out even then. Tevis recognizes Tim as a driving force behind the organization’s growth and success. During this time the national office moved from Abernathy, Texas, to Lubbock, establishing the current home of the national headquarters in the heart of the Sorghum Belt.
“I did not have any doubts with Tim, but you always wonder, well, what’s it going to be like? It’s the unknown. I knew that Tim was a number one mentor there and he studied his lessons well. He was a quick learner. As time went on, he stepped right in and fulfilled the shoes more than adequately. He’s been very good for the organization.”
Kenneth Rose (2002-2003): Kenneth Rose, who served as chairman during the early 2000s, spoke about Tim’s ability to foster effective relationships with policymakers in Washington, D.C. Tim’s strong rapport with key figures in the nation’s capital ensured sorghum’s voice was heard and respected. Ken highlighted Tim’s instrumental role in securing favorable policy outcomes for the sorghum industry during his tenure, including equalized loan rates for sorghum in the 2002 Farm Bill, which meant $197.2 million to the sorghum industry.
“Equalizing the loan rates with corn seemed like a dream in the clouds. I didn’t think it could ever happen. I was amazed at how well received we were in Washington. .…And thanks to Larry Combest and Charlie Stenholm, and those groups that Tim just really had a good connection with, we were able to get that one. Dealing with those kinds of political legislative issues was something I’d never done, but when Tim’s around, you learn in a hurry.”
J.B. Stewart (2014-2015): J.B. Stewart, who chaired the board from 2014-2015, expressed his admiration for Tim’s foresight in developing the sorghum leadership program. This program has been a breeding ground for talented leaders, ensuring continuity and success for both NSP and the United Sorghum Checkoff Program. Stewart also commended Tim’s commitment to the sorghum industry, stating that his leadership had been invaluable in propelling NSP forward. During this time, NSP was able to raise the reference price for sorghum in the 2014 Farm Bill to $3.95 per bushel, earning an additional $275.6 million for sorghum farmers.
“I’ve had so many farmers tell me that we get more bang for our buck investment in sorghum than any organization we belong to. I’ve just always believed that is just the absolute truth, and we’re just really, really fortunate for the size of our crop to have the type of activity that we create, and Tim’s leadership is a driving factor in that.”
Dan Atkisson (2018-2020): Dan Atkisson, who chaired the board in more recent years, underscored Tim’s unwavering commitment to the sorghum cause, emphasizing his strong moral compass and dedication. He described Tim’s leadership as unique due to his deep personal commitment to the industry, which goes beyond just a job. Dan said Tim is seen as someone who knows how to navigate political circles in Washington, D.C., and has a vast network of contacts. He commended his ability to take quick and effective action in response to the 2018 China trade challenges, which, following that time, NSP was able to work with USDA as it implemented the Market Facilitation Program to account for lost profits due to regulatory tariffs on U.S. exports with $300 million going to the sorghum industry.
“I was always continually amazed at how many doors would open to such a small organization when we went to D.C. with Tim. And that’s not because we’re a big organization. It’s just because Tim is such a veteran of being on the Hill and just knows so many people. …Tim knew somebody in every room in D.C. … During the China trade interruption, I think what was amazing was that just having somebody leading the organization that knew what to do, or knew the people to talk to, just to immediately start responding to it right away. That deal came out on a Saturday. We had a conference call on a Sunday morning. By Monday I was flying to D.C. and by Monday afternoon, we were interviewing law firms.”
These past chairmen, representing different eras of Tim’s leadership, collectively paint a picture of a dedicated and effective CEO who has steered NSP through various challenges and milestones. Tim’s commitment, leadership and ability to build strong relationships have left an indelible mark on the sorghum industry. As we celebrate his 30 years with NSP, we recognize the enduring impact of his leadership and the bright future he continues to shape for sorghum producers and the industry.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2023 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.