Minneola, Kan. farmer Greg Shelor was elected president of the National Sorghum Producers during the North American Grain Congress in San Antonio this week. Shelor raises 400 acres of grain sorghum each year in a crop rotation with wheat; he also raises irrigated corn.
Shelor will serve one year as the leader of the sorghum industry during a critical point. Acres planted to the crop are in decline (9.8 million acres in 1990 to 5.7 million acres) and yields are flat, prompting farmers throughout the sorghum-growing region switch to corn and soybeans - even cotton. Meanwhile, seed companies devote fewer dollars each year to sorghum breeding efforts and crop protection products. Despite the challenges, Shelor remains optimistic that sorghum will continue to be a viable and important crop to farmers in the High Plains.
Kansas Farmer/Farm Progress Companies sat down with Shelor during the NAGC to learn more about the man and the industry.
KF: What is the industry's best opportunity to reverse the acreage slide?
GS: Ethanol is real promising. In Kansas, 75% of the ethanol made comes from sorghum. The price for sorghum in areas with ethanol plants is similar to corn. In southwest Kansas, however, there are no ethanol plants and sorghum prices are 40 cents per bushel below corn in the cash market. We'd like to see more ethanol plants in the state, but we need incentives.
KF: What is the biggest challenge to sorghum producers?
GS: One of the main problems is herbicide to control grass and shattercane. Companies are not investing in these products, so we need to leverage research dollars from USDA's Agricultural Research Service to improve weed control options. It takes so long to get that product in the marketplace.
KF: Sorghum is known to require less water than corn. Is the crop's ability to withstand dry weather a potential marketing point?
GS: With large dairies in western Kansas and the Texas Panhandle, we've been talking about sorghum silage rather than corn silage because of less water use. We've established a branding program, "Quality Hybrid Forage Sorghum," which will promote certified seed for forage feeding value.
KF: In five years, how is the sorghum industry positioned?
GS: Prices will be better, because more ethanol plants will be online. We've got some corn herbicides re-registered for grass control in sorghum. Forage sorghum will be a bigger crop on irrigated acres. We will continue to target money to land-grant universities to do research on disease and drought tolerance, which ultimately ties into improved yields.