Hungry for Sorghum


By: Kayla Wilkins, Communications Intern 

It is not every day farmers are exposed to every fact of the sorghum industry. From seed innovation to the development of end products and everything in between, Lee Whitaker, a member of the Leadership Sorghum II Class, is getting that experience firsthand.

“It is neat to see what happens before and after the field," Whitaker said. "Before this program, that is all I had been exposed to."

Growing up working with his dad, Whitaker has known farming his entire life and followed his father’s footsteps. His farm has grown from a few leased acres in the late 1990s to 3,600 acres today in Claude, Texas, a third of which are sorghum acres.

Sorghum has a strong foothold in Whitaker’s area in the Texas panhandle and has been a smart choice for his operation. Drought resistant qualities and the ability to graze the stalks for his cattle operation benefit him greatly. The growing market for grain sorghum locally has also influenced his decision to continue growing grain sorghum.

Whitaker decided to become involved in the leadership sorghum program to expand his knowledge of the sorghum industry. He said he was eager to experience everything the program had to offer.

“It is so neat to be able to figure out what else you can do [with sorghum], whether it is sent to a feed lot, a pig farm, used in plastics, packing peanuts, or other places like the China market,” Whitaker said.

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This experience has lead Whitaker to make some big changes in of his operation beginning with the seed he uses.

“Every year I am trying new varieties and constantly trying to find something better than the year before,” Whitaker said. “I just want to be more involved in the industry.”

Whitaker has attended sessions focused on various aspects of the sorghum industry and he said he has enjoyed all of these trips, but visiting the Canton Rail Terminal in Kansas was particularly interesting to him.

“Seeing that big elevator, seeing how hungry for sorghum that area is and how eager they are to help farmers was fascinating,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker said his eyes have been opened to increasing market places for sorghum globally, and he plans to expand his marketing efforts to those outlets in the future. Overall, he said he is intrigued by the diverse end uses available for sorghum. Prior to Leadership Sorghum, he said he was limited to what he learned on the farm and now he sees a new world of opportunity in the sorghum industry.

This experience has not only given Whitaker a new-found knowledge of the sorghum industry, but he has gained many new friends, as well. Connecting with farmers across the country, he said, has helped him improve management practices on his farm tremendously.

“I would encourage people to go through the program because they will develop life-long friendships and learn things that will change their operation for the better,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker continues striving to improve his operation on a daily basis. He said he wants to gain as much experience as possible to achieve goals for the farm, so his children have something they can be proud of when they are old enough to take over.

Whitaker said sorghum will continue to be a staple crop on his farm for years to come. He sees long-term potential for growth in sorghum from a marketing standpoint and is excited for the future of advanced seed technology and new products for consumers.

“There is a big world out there that I had not been exposed to before," Whitaker said. "There are just so many things sorghum can and will be used for, and opportunities continue to expand the more sorghum is studied and used.”