Young Leadership

Through Leadership Sorghum, many young farmers are providing new faces to the sorghum industry by stepping into leadership positions.  Kent Martin, Josh Birdwell, Craig Poore and Carlton Bridgeforth share their experiences from the field to leadership involvement.

Written By: Delanie Crist

As producers diversify and many are beckoned to fill leadership positions and expand their knowledge through advocacy at a younger age, enthusiasm for next-level education opportunities has become essential. Through Leadership Sorghum, many young farmers are providing a new face to the sorghum industry, stepping up to meet this call-to-action.

Kent Martin, a sixth-generation sorghum farmer from Carmen, Oklahoma, applied to Leadership Sorghum to gain a more complete understanding of the sorghum industry.

“I wanted to go through the program, so I could understand all of the details about the industry,” Martin said. “I wanted to know more about nurseries, planting, harvesting, movement overseas and all of the other aspects that are happening behind-the-scenes, including political issues.”

At the time he applied to Leadership Sorghum, Martin was serving on the Oklahoma Sorghum Association board of directors, looking to take his leadership abilities to the national level. While Martin was in the program, Oklahoma gained a designated seat on the Sorghum Checkoff board of directors with the state’s acres taking over Nebraska’s as third in the nation. This created a more streamlined opportunity for Martin to serve on the board as opposed to applying to an at-large seat.

For Texas sorghum grower Josh Birdwell who farms alongside his grandparents in Hill County, his decision to become involved and apply to Leadership Sorghum stemmed from a desire to better himself.

“My granddad always geared me toward being involved in the community, being a leader and having the right people on boards,” Birdwell said.

Setting up a board with the right people at the right time can have a substantial impact on an industry. As sorghum producers push forward with new innovations, enhanced crop technologies and expanding markets, a Generation Sorghum campaign emerged two years ago that takes aim at a renewed look at the crop and is highly representative of these new, young leaders being churned out of Leadership Sorghum.

Craig Poore, a producer from Osborne County, Kansas, is another Leadership Sorghum graduate who took a position halfway through the program on the Kansas gained valuable experience on his state board and hoped to participate on a larger scale in the future, the opportunity to advance to the national level happened quicker than he anticipated.

“Toward the end of my program, I had the honor to be selected for the [Sorghum] Checkoff board,” Poore said. “I was not seeking a position when I started the [Leadership Sorghum] program, but it was the icing on the cake for me.”

Like Poore, neither Martin nor Birdwell anticipated serving on a board so soon, but each attributed the program for creating these new opportunities and providing the knowledge and background they needed to be successful.

Martin said Leadership Sorghum prepared him to lead on a much deeper level beyond building his personal network and becoming better able to grow and market his crop.

“What’s neat is on the outside, it’s a sorghum program,” Martin said, “but embedded under it is the core leadership values.”

Martin now serves alongside Poore on the Sorghum Checkoff board of directors. Another producer, Carlton Bridgeforth—who returned to the farm in Tanner, Alabama, after a stint on Wall Street—was the first Leadership Sorghum participant to be appointed to the Sorghum Checkoff board.

“I have found myself consistently using what I have learned during my time in the program to help make informed decisions as a board member,” Bridgeforth said. “Leadership Sorghum gave me a very good overall impression of how the crop is grown, how crop improvement goals are met, as well as how sorghum is marketed and used worldwide.”

Birdwell serves on the Texas Grain Sorghum Board, meeting the organization’s executive director for the first time through Leadership Sorghum. He said representation in his area is critical.

“Serving on the Texas sorghum board has been a good experience,” Birdwell said. “Some of those old-timers on the board have really taught me a lot.”

Transferring knowledge from one generation of board directors to the next is as important as farm succession for the longevity of the sorghum industry, and investment in young leaders is a deliberate action taken by the founding directors of the Sorghum Checkoff board from the long-term strategic plan of the National Sorghum Producers.

“This is clearly something current sorghum leadership places value on,” Martin said, “as they have spent much time, effort and priority developing the next generation of leaders both in the sorghum industry as well as the farm community.”

Steps needed to maintain and advance the sorghum industry are continuous. Fortunately, ready and willing leaders are available to step in and guide the industry. Birdwell, Bridgeforth, Poore and Martin, alongside other Leadership Sorghum graduates, are valuable components to this new generation of sorghum.

“From the sorghum industry perspective, it is great to see younger people get excited about sorghum production and especially leadership in the sorghum industry,” Martin said. “The foundation of the industry has been well established by the great leaders of the past, but the future is in the young generation, emerging to move the sorghum industry forward.”


Leadership Sorghum Class IV

Leadership Sorghum Class IV will be announced May 2018. Starting in the fall, class members will be exposed to various aspects of the sorghum industry from basic and applied research to international marketing. Through both hands-on and classroom-style education, participants will gain an understanding of how sorghum moves through the value chain, how checkoffs and interest organizations interact on behalf of the industry and what the future holds for the crop. The program also provides professional development training and networking opportunities. Learn more at