Del Ficke, Growing Up with Sorghum from Cattle to Crops


Del FickeDel Ficke is a fifth generation farmer from Pleasant Dale, Nebraska, who has a passion for sorghum not only as a reliable rotation crop but also as a feed for his cattle. In addition to their diversified farming operation, the Ficke family has a cow herd trademarked Graze Masters and a small meat company. Sorghum is intertwined into all aspects of Ficke's operation and has been for decades.

"I've had a life-long passion for the sorghum plant and industry," Ficke said. "My dad had a conventional feed operation along with a cow/calf herd, and he started using sorghum as a feed in the 50s."

Sorghum is a family affair for Ficke as he prepares his operation for the family's sixth and seventh generations. Ficke stated that his granddaughter even uses the grain to feed her chickens each morning.

"My granddaughter is going to be four years old, and she feeds sorghum to her chickens every day," Ficke said. "She told me the other day that when she started feeding them sorghum, she got more eggs. She's a fan."

As a forage-based cattle company, Ficke Cattle Co. doesn't feed much grain to their meat animals but is sure to feed them sorghum. Ficke said that utilizing grain, and particularly sorghum, in his cattle feed gives his operation a distinct position in the market because it gives his meat a unique taste and flavor. While they do graze, Ficke Cattle Co. is not a grass-fed operation, and utilizing sorghum is a great addition to their cattle's diet.

One of the biggest challenges Ficke faces with his operation is continuing to grow his business and gain new customers. Having an edge in the marketplace is important to Ficke, and he believes sorghum offers his meat customers an option that they are looking for.

"Sorghum provides us a great segue into getting consumers on board because it contains nutritional qualities they're looking for such as being gluten-free," Ficke said. "People love the idea that our cattle, hogs and chickens get fed sorghum because they like what it offers."

Another way that Ficke pushes his operation ahead of the game is by sticking up for what he believes in and not bending to the status quo. Ficke noted that people from all over are nervous to switch things up in their operation because it is different than what has traditionally been done before. But for Ficke, one of the biggest rewards in his day-to-day job is taking risks and trying new things.

"The reward of seeing all the fields turn green with different crops and different hope is really what charges me up every day," Ficke said. "Having diversity on the farm is such a big component in the diversity of having a happy family and a growing community. It all goes hand in hand."

Ficke joined Leadership Sorghum as an opportunity to learn more about the ancient grain that his family has used for generations and to discover the many ways sorghum can diversify his operation.  Ficke believes that being an advocate for sorghum is important not only for operations similar to his own, but for others who may be unsure of what sorghum can add to their rotation. He believes every farmer should experience a program where they can witness the entire supply chain, learning everything from genetics to end-users and export logistics to nutrition in order to decide if they truly want to invest in planting that crop.

"We are doing all the right things with sorghum, and it's going to be a huge player as agriculture continues to change," Ficke said. "I could not be more excited to be part of the sorghum industry."

Ficke has enjoyed his Leadership Sorghum experience, stating that it has been the best leadership program he has ever been a part of. Crediting the knowledge and dedication of each session's presenters, Ficke stated that Leadership Sorghum has offered him a unique experience to network with talented individuals across all facets of the sorghum industry, an opportunity he is thankful for.

"Meeting people through this program, staff and other producers, we all become family," Ficke said. "The sorghum family is pretty amazing."

Ficke has already expanded his footprint in the sorghum industry by serving as a board director on the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board for almost a year. He hopes to continue promoting sorghum as a crop and feed of choice and plans to stay connected with the many producers, agronomists, breeders and buyers he has met through Leadership Sorghum.

Equipment Color:  Primarily the cheapest I can buy.
Tractor Tunes: Anything that moves me. Some days it may be classical, some days country; I scan constantly with the radio so every day is different.
Favorite season on the Farm: Fall
Favorite Part of Farming: Watching the multitude of crops grow
Hobbies: I'm an avid reader, and I like to fish, travel and garden.

Del is a member of Leadership Sorghum Class III, a program designed to foster the next generation of sorghum leaders. The program exposes members to various aspects of the sorghum industry from basic and applied research to international marketing. Through both hands-on and classroom-style education, participants 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.