Leadership Sorghum Graduates New Class of Leaders


The sorghum industry has a new crop of young leaders. A 15-month journey came to an end Dec. 12 at a graduation ceremony honoring members of Leadership Sorghum Class III.

Leadership Sorghum Class III is comprised of 15 members from seven states who are actively engaged on the farm. Class members applied to the program each hoping to learn something new about the sorghum industry and with a desire to develop strong leadership skills to take with them after graduation.

"I applied for Leadership Sorghum after reading about it in Sorghum Grower magazine," said Craig Meeker, class member from Wellington, Kansas. "I was yearning for knowledge and leadership within the sorghum industry, and this seemed like a good opportunity."

As a sixth generation farmer, Meeker prioritizes understanding the ins and outs of the industry to ensure he is building an operation that can continue for future generations. He joined Leadership Sorghum to learn more specifically about who his end users are and what needs and quality standards they have. Similarly, class member Ted Bannister joined Leadership Sorghum to learn the best ways to advocate for sorghum to potential end users and new markets.

"I believe farms are unique in their capacity to grow and teach people," Bannister said. "I want to be an advocate for farming and agriculture, being transparent in how we operate. This program has provided me the information I need to be successful in educating others about this industry."

Others, like Joe Krippner from Marty, Minnesota, joined the program to gather as much information about the crop as they could in order to promote its use back home to other producers. Though sorghum is not a popular crop in his area, Krippner found with the proper management he can harvest a successful yield. He also took initiative to search out market opportunities and found a local bird seed company who buys his sorghum. Krippner is using his experience in the program to advocate for sorghum in Minnesota, helping his fellow farmers find best management practices and market opportunities in the region.

“I just knew that this would be a great opportunity to get out and see the whole industry from seed production to export markets,” Krippner said. “I also learned a lot about myself through some of our sessions where you find out what kind of personality you have, what makes you tick and how that works interacting with other people."

Leadership Sorghum is comprised of five sessions where members travel to different states across the country, focusing on specific aspects of the sorghum industry. The first session kicked off in the Texas High Plains and focused on the sorghum seed industry and basic and applied research. Next, the class traveled to Kansas to learn about public research and domestic markets. In their third session, Leadership Sorghum visited Washington, D.C., to see what roles the government, checkoffs and special interest groups play in the sorghum industry. For the fourth part of the program, the group traveled to New Orleans to tour export facilities and learn about international marketing and next generation biofuels. The final session of the trip took place in Lubbock, Texas, where the class members learned about the board of directors and participated in a graduation ceremony.

Shelee Padgett, Sorghum Checkoff regional director, spearheaded the program and worked closely with the members throughout the five sessions. Padgett has gotten to know each class member and has seen them excel both in their sorghum industry knowledge and leadership skills.

"It has been so fulfilling to see each member in this class grow, learn and experience new things," said Padgett. "Our goal is to equip them to be leaders and advocates for sorghum, taking their knowledge back to their communities and furthering the industry by becoming involved locally and nationally."

Many past members of Leadership Sorghum have graduated from the program and moved on to serve at state and national levels. To date, the program has seen a total of 45 members from 13 states, many now serving on state and national boards and committees. Leadership Sorghum is a program committed to developing the next generation of sorghum industry leaders and equipping members with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

"I am eager to bring back my knowledge and experience from Leadership Sorghum to farmers in Minnesota," Krippner said. "I want growers to try sorghum and see what a versatile crop it is, and to see how many opportunities are out there for farmers."

If you are interested or know someone who would be a good candidate for Leadership Sorghum Class IV, contact Shelee Padgett at shelee@sorghumcheckoff.com or visit LeadSorghum.com.

Joe Krippner Receives Certificate

Joe Krippner (right) receiving his Leadership Sorghum certificate from David Fremark (left), former Sorghum Checkoff chairman.