Growing Interest in Kansas Food-Grade Sorghum

By: Kayla Wilkins, Communications Intern 

The decision to implement food grade sorghum in rotation has flourished into a smart business decision for Kansas sorghum farmer, Lynn Mead. The opportunity first presented itself to Lynn when his local elevator began working with a gluten-free facility that purchased food grade sorghum.

Lynn’s father has been implementing grain sorghum into their rotation since the early 1960s, but Lynn and his son, Dustin Mead, just began utilizing food-grade sorghum on dry land acres four years ago and recently on irrigated circles, as well. Lynn said his dad first started growing grain sorghum because of its ability to perform in their region’s harsh climate and those qualities still stand true today.

Lynn said he is able to capitalize on profit because he can harvest then haul the grain locally to a gluten-free facility and beyond that, it is worth more per bushel than commercial sorghum. Sorghum has always been a staple crop in Kansas according to Lynn, so when the local elevator began processing food-grade sorghum it made producing the grain an easy decision for him.

“As a producer, as long as we can produce the kind of yield we need to make it work, it is definitely worth a little bit of extra [work] that we have to do,” Lynn said.

When producers grow a food grade product, they have to take necessary precautions to assure quality, while still maintaining yield.

In his experience, Lynn said special varieties of grain like this often give up some yield potential, but this is not the case for sorghum. He said his food-grade yields have been comparable to commercial sorghum and that helps increase his bottom line.

Food-grade sorghum not only wins in yield potential, but also in its drought tolerant capabilities. Lynn said using less water to produce a crop always impacts his operation and others in a positive way.

“If we can get a crop that can use less water and still have the kind of net income off it, then these farmers are going to be looking at that without problem,” Lynn said. “That is just going to drive them to sorghum; it’s just the economics of it.”

Lynn predicts the market for this ancient grain, American grown will only expand. Consumers are pushing for the qualities and nutrients found in sorghum, and as long as there is consumer demand, the market will expand.

“In the past four years since we have been doing it we have not seen less talk about it or less ads about it on TV, you see more all the time,” Lynn said. “If you go to the grocery store, gluten-free is definitely a buzz word on any product.”

Lynn said a combination of the nutritional qualities consumers demand and the monetary value of the grain drives farmers to continuing utilizing it in their crop rotation.

“Sorghum has been here a long time and it has changed,” Lynn said. “This is just another change in sorghum; another opportunity is what it boils down to.”