Posted on Aug 08, 2017
Ted Bannister of Alexander, Kansas, has been growing sorghum for 20 years. Bannister is the fourth generation on his farm in western Kansas, founded over 100 years ago. After high school he attended Fort Hays State University following in the footsteps of his parents and brothers where he studied economics and then headed to the big city – Washington D.C. – to pursue graduate school at American University and a career as an economist. Little did he know, his roots in agriculture would soon pull him back to his heritage.
His experience in economics allows Bannister to view farming from a global viewpoint. He draws on his education by applying concepts such as “scarcity” and “supply and demand,” which allows him to see the bigger picture through rough times.
“I wasn’t sure I would ever return to the farm, but it didn’t take long for me to miss home and consider all of the possibilities. However, it took me a little longer to convince my wife,” Bannister joked.
Bannister is married to Kathy, a United Methodist pastor, and together they have three daughters, Hannah, Tigist and Mulu. Kathy is known to wear many hats. Bannister said she doubles as a top class ranch hand and also has skill sets in culinary arts, woodworking and carpentry. Their eldest daughter, Hannah, recently graduated from the University of Kansas with top honors. Tigist and Mulu were adopted by the Bannisters from Ethiopia nine years ago. Although having three daughters poses its challenges, Bannister counts it as a blessing.
“Tigist and Mulu are both in high school and each have enough personality for five kids,” Bannister said with a chuckle. “They keep me on my toes.”
Bannister and his wife felt that adopting internationally was a proactive mission to take action for a cause that is often overlooked. Their goal was to provide a support system to two individuals who may not have had access to that otherwise.
“Adopting the girls meant that they could enjoy a wealth that most of us take for granted: family,” Bannister said. “They now have parents, siblings, cousins and grandparents.”
When he is not spending time on the farm or with his family, Bannister enjoys a variety of activities. One of these is buying rental real estate as his father did while he was growing up.
“My dad rehabbed and rented several properties in our town, so he would pull me out of school to work on them,” Bannister said. “I like houses because they each have their own story to tell – what they have seen and what they will see in the future.”
Bannister has served on his county and state Farm Bureau boards for 19 years and has been on various extension advisories. He is known to serve on four to five boards at any given time.
“I’m getting enough years on me now, that I can add something just by helping their meetings function, keeping people on task even if I don’t have much expertise in the subjects under consideration,” Bannister said.
In addition, Bannister’s family has also been integral in recruiting landowners for the development of wind energy in western Kansas. Bannister and his brothers continue to work together to match up groups of landowners with wind companies, and their farm now hosts several turbines.
“Wind energy may be our last hope for new industry as many rural area populations drop so low that other industries won’t work,” Bannister said. “It has brought young employees to our town, improved the roads and adds significant tax contributions to our county.”
Bannister is motivated to work with tenacity and face every day with new stamina because of the legacy his ancestors left. He also attributes much of his success to his father, who mentored him and taught him the tools of the trade.
“No one will ever teach me more about so many different aspects of life,” Bannister said.
Bannister and his family currently farm an average of 1,100 acres of sorghum annually. Their dry land operation produces wheat, grain sorghum, fallow and cattle.
“I have tried almost every crop at some point, but sorghum is the most profitable crop I have because it is tough and versatile,” Bannister said. “The post-crop residue is the primary feedstuff for my cow/calf herd, which gives me a comparative cost advantage in that enterprise.”
It is easy to see this man’s broad range of experience and passion in life, and according to Bannister, sorghum has been another learning outlet for him. Sorghum has made farming for Bannister agronomically and economically possible in a tough landscape. He has a strong belief in sorghum and wanted to expand his knowledge about the crop in other areas. The impact sorghum had on his farm lead him to apply for Leadership Sorghum.
“I saw with my own eyes many things I had only read about,” Bannister said. “I now consider sorghum growers and my new buddies in my class a familiar and valuable resource.”
Bannister uses his many experiences, including Leadership Sorghum, to advocate for not only sorghum but agriculture as a whole. He wants to show others the raw truth behind a farming lifestyle and promote transparency while also portraying the devotion sorghum farmers have to their livelihood.
“I believe farms are unique in their capacity to grow and teach people, so we extend our farm experience to as many extended friends and family as will brave it,” Bannister said. “Farming is a tough, heartbreaking and stressful life that I feel lucky as hell to be a part of.”
Equipment Color: I am not religious or loyal to brands. That being said, I’ve had a lot of Honda equipment that was pretty reliable.
Tractor Tunes: “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison.
Favorite season on the Farm: April, calves are being born and it’s an optimistic time.
Favorite Part of Farming: We are businessmen, engineers, scientists and lovers.
Hobbies: Traveling, Eating Exotic Foods.
Ted 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.