Sorghum Checkoff Welcomes Leadership Sorghum Class III

The Sorghum Checkoff recently selected 15 sorghum farmers from seven states to participate in the third class of Leadership Sorghum, a program hosted by the Sorghum Checkoff that seeks to develop the next generation of leaders for the sorghum industry.

“The success of any organization can be traced directly to the people who lead it,” said David Fremark, Sorghum Checkoff chairman and farmer from St. Lawrence, South Dakota. “The sorghum industry has moved forward with extraordinary success in the short life of the checkoff program, which can be credited directly to its leaders. With that in mind, the Sorghum Checkoff formed the Leadership Sorghum program, and the USCP board believes investing in quality individuals will best sustain the positive momentum and extraordinary success of the last few years. Providing these next-generation decision makers with the information and tools to propel sorghum to the next level of profitability is our goal.”

The 15-month program exposes participants to various aspects of the sorghum industry from basic research to international marketing. Leadership Sorghum Class III will kick off in the Texas High Plains in September focusing on the sorghum seed industry and sorghum research. In November, participants will travel to Kansas to take a closer look at public research focused on sorghum as well as the domestic markets available for the crop. Early in 2017, Class III participants will learn more about the government’s role in sorghum, checkoffs and stakeholder groups while in Washington, D.C., and a trip to the Louisiana Gulf later that summer will educate participants on port operations, international marketing and next generation biofuels.

The first two classes of the Leadership Sorghum program encompassed growers from 11 states. Each brought varied perspectives to the sorghum industry, including different cropping systems and farming operation structures. Leadership Sorghum prepares sorghum farmers to be advocates for sorghum and agriculture on local, regional and national levels, and alumni are more involved within state and national sorghum organizations and committees as a result of the program.

Meet the Members of Leadership Sorghum Class III

Jeffrey Mai grows both dryland and irrigated sorghum on his farm in Garden City, Kansas. By participating in Leadership Sorghum, Mai said he wants to gain a better understanding of sorghum industry processes as a whole and where the industry is headed.

For more than 20 years, Ted Bannister has grown sorghum on his farm in Hays, Kansas. When asked why he wanted to participate in Leadership Sorghum, Bannister said he would like to better understand sorghum’s role in the wider global economy.

Mark Scott of Manhattan, Kansas, produces sorghum as a cash crop and as feed for his cow/calf operation and commercial ewe flock. Scott said his goal is to gain the knowledge to promote sorghum as a product, whether as a food or a fuel.

Del Ficke of Pleasant Dale, Nebraska, continues his long family history of growing sorghum and uses the crop as feed in his holistic cattle operation. Ficke said he wants to become more involved in the promotion of all products produced with sorghum on both local and global fronts.

Though sorghum is not always associated with his state, Joe Krippner of Kimball, Minnesota, would like to change that misperception. Krippner said he started growing sorghum as an alternative low input crop and is pleased with his success with sorghum so far. He plans to use this opportunity to build the confidence of growers in his area to help expand sorghum acreage.

Zachary Simon, an agriculture extension agent, uses sorghum in the crop rotation on his family farm in Goddard, Kansas. Simon said he hopes to use the knowledge he gains from Leadership Sorghum to help his constituents, friends and family improve sorghum production on their own farms.

Ethan Miller and his father have implemented sorghum in the regular crop rotation on their family farm in Columbia, Missouri, for the past 10 years. Miller said he hopes to use Leadership Sorghum as a launch pad for building and promoting the industry across Missouri.

For Zachary Rendel, sorghum plays a vital role in water conservation on his family farm in Miami, Oklahoma. As a young farmer, Rendel said he wants to learn more about the “new-old crop, sorghum” through his participation in Leadership Sorghum Class III.

Daniel Riffel utilizes sorghum as a rotational crop and to graze his family’s cattle in Stockton, Kansas. He said he hopes to continue developing his leadership skills and believes Leadership Sorghum will help him be more effective in his leadership roles in the industry.

Gary Mach of Abbott, Texas, grows sorghum as one of three crops on his third generation family farm. Mach said he will utilize the education and experience gained to expand awareness and advocate for sorghum and its uses in Texas, the United States and foreign markets.

Through Leadership Sorghum Craig Meeker of Wellington, Kansas, wants to learn about the global complexity of the sorghum industry and bring that information back to his farm and community. Sorghum has been an integral part of his farming operation for many years, and he said it makes a great rotational crop in his area.

Chad Haden uses grain sorghum as a dryland rotational crop on his farm in the river bottoms of Clay Center, Kansas. Haden said he wants to use this opportunity to learn more about the sorghum industry and will use his new understanding of the industry in many ways, primarily in promoting the crop.

Heath Herring of Saint Joseph, Louisiana, produces sorghum because it tolerates the area’s climate and produces consistent yields for his operation. By participating in Leadership Sorghum, Herring said he hopes he can gain new information and sorghum production tools.

Fourth generation farmer Bill Spiegel of Manhattan, Kansas, uses grain sorghum in rotation with wheat and soybeans in a continuous no-till system. He said his goal is to use this program as a tool to better advocate for sorghum farmers and the sorghum industry on the local, state and national levels.

Allen Hensley of Alice, Texas, produces sorghum on about 75 percent of his land and depends on the crop to sustain his entire operation. Hensley said he plans to use the information he gains from Leadership Sorghum to educate farmers in his area by being as much of a voice for sorghum production as possible.

To learn more about Leadership Sorghum Class III and each of the participants over the course of the program, visit