Sorghum Checkoff celebrates 10-year anniversary

Ten years ago the Sorghum Checkoff kicked off. Now, a decade later the program has help push the commodity to new levels.

Producers needed opportunities for their sorghum crop 10 years ago, and United Sorghum Checkoff Program Executive Director Florentino Lopez said the checkoff helped serve as a catalyst for change.

“Our underlying mission has always been to improve producer profitability through greater efficiency and productivity,” Lopez said.

Sorghum producers were also searching for more marketing and demand options. They needed the opportunity to get a better price and help their profitability long term.

“The Sorghum Checkoff enables farmers the opportunity to invest back into their crop and fund advancements that will push the industry forward,” Lopez said.

Tim Lust, CEO of the USCP, added that the checkoff also provided strength in numbers.

“The Sorghum Checkoff was originally started so collectively it could do what individually the groups that existed at the time could not do,” Lust said. “The industry at that point in time had significant needs from a [research and demand] standpoint and the Sorghum Checkoff was an avenue to accomplish these goals and carry out the work needed to improve the industry.”

Lust said there were opportunities in the industry at the time “that could really help the industry grow.”



The Sorghum Checkoff provided the resources needed to help the industry grow, and in the beginning the focus was placed on agronomy and genetics, a necessary investment in crop technology to catch sorghum up to its fellow commodities.

“We just really needed to be able to make those types of investments to be able to move the industry forward,” Lust said.

Since the checkoff has started, a number of projects have helped sorghum progress. One such instance, the doubled haploid project, Lust believes will be a tool to tremendously shorten the time period it takes to develop hybrids and get them out to farmers fields. Corn has taken advantage of it, and sorghum breeders hope to do so too.

“Doubled haploid is a tool that never would have been able to be found and developed without the ability to have a program like the Sorghum Checkoff that could invest in that and be able to move forward,” Lust said. “While it is not in farmers’ fields yet, the huge, big hurdles on the front end have been made and now it’s really a matter of getting it implemented and making it part of day-to-day sorghum breeding.”

The doubled haploid technology is game-changing for sorghum, and another success story for the program is its recent management of the sugarcane aphid.

“It would have been extremely difficult for our industry to have gone through that, had we not had the resources—both people and financial in order to invest in that work,” Lust said.

For researchers to find resistant lines as quickly as they did and get them into farmers’ fields couldn’t have happened without Sorghum Checkoff resources. Public researchers, private industry and other stakeholders all came together through leadership provided by the Sorghum Checkoff, and Lopez said those combined relationships helped sorghum producers reach a point now where the sugarcane aphid is being handled effectively and there are more education materials than there ever have been.

Partnerships with universities have also been an important part of the checkoff. USCP has collaborated with Kansas State University and the Kansas Grain Sorghum Commission.

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“We believe that the checkoff needs to facilitate opportunities with other stakeholders in our industry,” Lopez said. “We need to leverage those dollars that come from producers—leverage them both in the public and private sectors to help improve opportunities for the farmer in general.”

The goal has been for the checkoff to affect opportunities for stakeholders.

“I feel heavily that our stakeholders are the farmers or those individuals that are the supplying funds into the checkoff,” Lopez said. “So it’s important that we’re able to provide the things that they need to make their operation better.”

And they want to enhance the industry as a whole, working with companies to take advantage of some of the research that’s taken place and give it back to the producers.

“One of those things that’s constantly said here is how are we going to get it into a farmer’s field to where that farmer can utilize a technology and become better,” Lopez said.

To date, the sorghum industry has exported nearly a billion bushels to Chinese markets. By having both established and emerging markets it will keep pushing the crop in the future. Consumer and pet food markets have exceeded Lust’s expectations, and the growth is starting to be realized as sorghum products are being found in more places than ever.

“There’s just so many things happening there that continue to grow and the checkoff was the catalyst that really kicked those off,” Lust said. “The exciting thing for me is to see private industry take those and go with them today.”

Lopez said work to secure international markets has been an important factor in prices farmers are getting for their sorghum.

“We know that that producer having a equitable price is critical,” Lopez said.

Looking back, prior to the checkoff and since, there has been a change in value for sorghum compared to other commodities.

“We know that we’ve seen the value increase prior to the checkoff and so that’s been something I believe is positive,” Lopez said.


The future

Sorghum producer and current chairwoman of the USCP board of directors Verity Ulibarri said the checkoff has helped her and her husband take advantage of sorghum advancements on their dryland farm between Clovis and Grady, New Mexico.

The checkoff’s ability to help producers is important to her, especially when they can use the resources to benefit the whole commodity.

“It kind of gives us a louder voice and more opportunity to get research done and ultimately help our bottom line and our neighbors and other producers,” she said.

Ulibarri believes the future is extremely bright for sorghum.

“I see the traction we’ve got in the first 10 years has been significant compared to how we started and how small our footprint really was,” she said.

Recent achievements that have resulted from investments that started at the very beginning of the checkoff are now being realized. She thinks there will be huge leaps in the next five to 10 years.

“All of these things that we’ve been working on in research areas to actually get something to market, get something that’s tangible,” she said. “My hope is that we can actually have more of an effect on the marketplace and that our producers have more options, which will eventually lead to greater profitability.”

From an economic standpoint, she hopes improvements in the crop and education will be beneficial.

“I think we’ll be able to start seeing those returns,” she said.

Lust also sees the value in the ability to leverage research dollars. He said the Department of Energy invested approximately $90 million in sorghum in recent years. USCP was able to make additional meaningful investments as well.

“The fact we’ve been able to be heavily involved in so many of those DOE projects that are really doing some unique things—that frankly have not really been done in any commodities,” he said. “The ability for us to use producer dollars to help be a small part of something much bigger is pretty exciting.”

For more information about the Sorghum Checkoff visit

Kylene Scott can be reached at [email protected] or 620-227-1804.