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Articles from 2018 In December

With only half of his flight training, and dubbed a “shade tree operator,” his year as a pilot, Johnny King began his aerial spraying business in 1979 on the county roads of Sudan, Texas. Today, King Ag Aviation is a thriving business. He and wife Cynthia are shown with one of their spray planes.

Ag spray pilot has come a long way from ‘shade tree operator’ days

With half of his flight training, and dubbed a “shade tree operator,” Johnny King began his crop dusting business in 1979 on the county roads of Sudan, Texas. But after a stern warning from a highway patrolman, he bought the neighboring labor, (pronounced lah-bór, a Spanish land unit measuring 177 acres), and built what is today King Ag Aviation.   

“I started under a shade tree a mile-and-a-half north of here,” he recalls, “and I used the county road to take off and land on. I didn't have a runway, so I bought an old bobtail truck, put a tank on it, and parked it under a tree. I had a house well I used to fill my water truck.”

The highway patrolman, who was responding to a car accident at a nearby intersection, saw the airplane sitting by the road with no runway in sight. “He came up to me and said, ‘Don't let me catch you taking off on these county roads,’ knowing good and well that I was. After his warning, that's when I finally came down here and built this operation.”

King comes from a long line of gunslingers. His grandfather, Tom King, who grew up hoeing and plowing with mules on the family farm at Vernon, Texas, wanted to do something different, so he attended Vanderbilt medical school and became a surgeon, returning to Vernon to build a hospital.


Johnny recalls flying to Crowell, Texas, to spray some wheat, and the 80-year-old gentleman who picked him up asked to which King family he belonged. Johnny told him Dr. King, and was told, ‘He took my appendix out and my dad gave him 10 roosters.’”

It would be in 1916, after Dr. King had ridden a train from Vernon to Farwell, Texas, and then a carriage to Littlefield, where speculators approached him to purchase land that would later become Main. But his grandfather didn’t like the soil on Main Street, so he purchased land near Sudan for $16 an acre.

“He built a house on every labor because that's all that one family could farm in those days,” says Johnny. “When my grandfather bought the land, my dad was just a kid, so he put tenants on it. There were families who farmed our land for 40 and 50 years.”

His grandfather was a “heck of a guy,” Johnny says, but was stern and believed passionately in work and education. “When I was young, he’d say, ‘I don’t want to catch you messing around and playing. I want you on the end of a hoe handle.’”

Read more about Johnny's son, Ag pilot encourages son towards organic farming


In 1949, Johnny’s father and mother, Tom and Elmarie King, left Vernon for Sudan to farm cotton on the family land. In 1954, his father also purchased and managed Fairview Cotton Gin. And while Johnny grew up working in both operations, he didn’t wind up on the end of a hoe but rather in the cockpit of an Air Tractor.

“Dad gave me my private pilot’s license for high school graduation, but under one condition: ‘You promise you won't be a crop duster.’ I had to renege on that,” Johnny laughs. “I've loved flying since I was a little kid, and it just made sense to do ag application work once I got of age.”

Johnny’s first flight hours as a child were in the cockpit of a Piper Cub that had wrecked while landing to reload on one of their turnrows. “Nobody was hurt, but they couldn't move the plane, so they left it behind our barn. I put so many pretend hours on that airplane — and I didn’t even go anywhere.

“Dad saw that wrecked airplane and said it scared him. He just hoped I wouldn’t fly.”


Johnny, who credits Fred Locker of Muleshoe, Texas, for giving him his start by leasing him his first airplane — a Piper Pawnee — has been spraying crops on the Texas South Plains for the last 40 years. “It gets in your blood,” he says. “It’s a bug that bites you, and you don’t get rid of it. I just love flying.”

And while in his flying career he has “turned off the electricity in Amherst, Texas,” when the bottom wire of a highline got caught on his airplane rudder, and he’s had a couple of accidents, he’s logged more than 18,000 hours in the cockpit of Texas skies.

Prior to Bt cotton, Johnny says, treating for bollworms is how they made their money. “We'd work all year, then make our living in August spraying bollworms — that’s how we’d gauge our year, by how many bollworms we’d sprayed.

“In 1981, the threshold was 30,000 or 40,000 worms per acre. It was unbelievable. It was to the point that if you didn’t spray, you basically didn’t strip — you didn’t have anything left.”



Over his career, Johnny says, the biggest advancements in aerial application have been the use of guidance systems and switching to turbine engines.

“Before that, we were running radial engines that were pre-WW II. They produced 600 horsepower — a lot of power — but they were old and worn out. We'd spray all day and work on them all night. They were always blowing jugs.”

Prior to installing his first guidance system in 1993, Johnny says, he used human flaggers on the ground, who were often his sons, Chad and Russ. Flaggers required a lot of pre-planning.

“With today’s guidance systems, I can spray a field in Sudan and then in Olton on the same load. In the old days, I had to have a flagger here, and either another at the next field or just wait on him to get there. They'd have flats and get stuck on the way. The guidance system has made it so we can really produce. There’s no way I could fly as many acres as I do today without it.”

In Johnny’s first year of business, he sprayed about 8,000 acres. In 2018, he and his three pilots covered a little less than 200,000 acres, which he says was less than normal due to the drought.

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

MIDDAY Midwest Digest, Dec. 31, 2018

There's a no-travel warning for the stretch of Interstate 29 through North Dakota. High winds have caused blowing and drifting snow.

There's an information void for farmers because of the government shutdown, as well as an aid void.

There's no night trading on the CME for the next two nights because of the new year.

American flags are back up to full staff, after lowering them for the death of George H.W. Bush. The flag was lowered for 67 days this year. 

Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass performs at the 2018 Southern Farm Show. From left, Parks Icenhour, bassist Julie Brown, Mike Aldridge, Glen Dyer and Brian Aldridge

Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass delights Southern Farm Show since 1978

Each year, a highlight of the Southern Farm Show is the entertaining and foot stomping music of Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass. Attendees know that no show is complete without a stop to hear this talented local group.

Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass returns once again for this year’s Southern Farm Show set for Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. The Southern Farm Show is the largest farm show in the Carolinas and Virginia with more than 400 exhibiting companies.

It is interesting to note that  Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass has performed at every single Southern Farm Show held at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. They were at the very first show in 1978; 2019 marks their  42nd year at the show.

Their appearance each year is sponsored by Farm Credit Associations of North Carolina. Nine shows are held all three days of the Southern Farm Show at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. in the Auction Arena at the front of the Jim Graham Building.

“We play traditional old timey Bluegrass music,” explains Parks Icenhour, Jr., an original member of Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass who still performs with fellow original member and master of ceremonies Glen Dyer.

“We’ll take requests for some country songs if one of the guys knows it. Folks at the show really enjoy good Bluegrass music so that’s what we play at each of our nine performances at the show,” Icenhour says.

Each of the nine performances is unique with different songs performed at each show. At each show, Dyer shares stories about bluegrass music and tales of his boyhood days growing up in Tennessee, which is always popular with the crowds.

Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass plays all of the Bluegrass favorites from Bluegrass legends Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and others. They also perform many of their own songs.

Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass has been around since 1972. The group   got their name from brothers Billy Wall and Needham Wall who founded the group along with Dyer and Icenhour. Billy Wall was the original banjo player and Needham Wall was the original bass player. Leroy Prince, the original mandolin player, passed away in 1998.

After Prince passed away, the group didn’t actively pursue new gigs in the early 1990s, but they remained committed to performing at the Southern Farm Show each year because it was such an  important  event  to them. In the late 1990s, Mike Aldridge joined the group as mandolin player and is still performing with Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass.

After Aldridge joined the group, Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass became more active in pursuing bookings. The Southern Farm Show is still their biggest gig each year, all they do perform about four times a year for private functions.

Aldridge’s son Brian, joined the group in 2002, playing banjo. “Brian would tag along at the show with his dad, and one day Mike said, ‘Brian you need to learn to play the banjo and join us.’ Two years later, he started playing and he’s now our banjo player,” Icenhour says.

Icenhour says the group appreciates the friendly, family nature of the Southern Farm Show.

 “It’s something we always look forward to,” Icenhour says. “There’s so much nostalgia for us at the show and the crowds are so good and receptive. We plan to keep going on. We see a lot of the same folks each year and a sprinkling of new folks. It’s always a lot of fun.”

Each year at the show on Thursday, members of FFA stop by to hear Brothers ‘n’ Bluegrass play. This is always a highlight for the group. “A lot of these young people says they are aspiring musicians who really enjoy Bluegrass, so that means a lot to us,” Icenhour says.


Arkansas State’s 25th annual Agribusiness Conference set for Feb. 13

Arkansas State University’s annual Agribusiness Conference is celebrating its 25th anniversary of providing timely information and agricultural policy education to farmers, agribusiness professionals, students and educators across the Mid-South.

The 2019 conference, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, will focus on farm management, the economics and politics of trade and farm policy, and commodity and credit markets.

On-site registration will begin at 7:30 a.m. in A-State’s Fowler Center, 201 Olympic Drive, Jonesboro, Ark.. Lunch will be served in the First National Bank Arena at noon. Afternoon sessions end at 3:30 p.m.

The morning general session features four speakers and a panel discussion:

• Ted Glaub, founder and manager/broker at Glaub Farm Management, LLC, will give insights he has gleaned from a 40-year career in professional farm management.

• Jim Wiesemeyer, Washington policy analyst for Farm Journal Media, will discuss the impact of the 2018 election on agriculture and the rural economy.

• Amanda Countryman, associate professor of agricultural economics at Colorado State University, will review the theory and history of U.S. trade policy and how current events are impacting farmers and agribusiness.

• Keith Coble, professor of agricultural economics at Mississippi State University, will discuss the lessons learned from the 2018 farm bill debate.

The luncheon speaker, Tyne Morgan, is host of the U.S. Farm Report TV program which focuses on agriculture and agribusiness.

Afternoon special-interest sessions include commodity market updates for rice, cotton, and poultry and beef, plus a session on credit, tax, and legal issues for agricultural lenders and producers.

The conference qualifies for continuing education credits according to the guidelines of the Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy, Arkansas Certified Crop Advisors and Arkansas Agricultural Consultants, and the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

Joining the College of Agriculture to sponsor the conference are: The Judd Hill Foundation; AgHeritage Farm Credit Services; Allenberg Cotton Company; Arkansas Farm Bureau; Arvest Bank; BASF; Busch Agricultural Resources, LLC; Engines, Inc.; Farm Credit Midsouth; Glaub Farm Management; Greenway Equipment Inc.; Helena Agri-Enterprises, LLC; National Land Realty; Ozark Mountain Poultry; Quattlebaum Grooms & Tull PLLC; Riceland Foods, Inc.; RiceTec, Inc.; and USA/Arkansas Rice.

Admission to the conference and luncheon is free, but pre-registration is encouraged. Detailed conference information and online registration are available at To register by phone, contact the College of Agriculture, (870) 972-3221, or email

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

MORNING Midwest Digest, Dec. 31, 2018

A woman was killed by a lion at a game park in North Carolina. She was from Indiana. 

A big day for the NFL across the heartland yesterday.

Combines will be rolling in Brazil, but analysts continue to cut acreage estimates there. 

State-by-state health rankings are out. Minnesota and North Dakota are among the best.

Then and now: Once upon a time Hembree Brandon had dark hair.

After 45 years, time to say so long

I hate goodbyes.

They are all too often so final: childhood friends who move away and we never see again; classmates who chase dreams and success and lose touch; lost loves; deaths, funerals.

I could not have imagined, when I came to Delta Farm Press 45 years ago end of November, that my time for shuffling off the stage would come so quickly.

Where did the years go?

When I was leaving my previous newspaper job to move to Clarksdale, Miss., to join the editorial staff of an impressively successful and rapidly expanding agricultural publishing operation, an editor friend sent a note: “I’m sorry you’re leaving the real newspaper world.”

Truth tell, I was just a bit sorry, too. I came to Farm Press expecting to stay maybe a year or two, then back to the “real” newspaper world. Surprise, surprise: Agriculture turned out to be as interesting, challenging, intriguing, and fulfilling as anything I’d done before, with some of the greatest people one could hope to know, all with fascinating stories of how they came to be farmers, and what kept them farming despite the adversities of weather, pests, diseases, markets, and governments. Ditto for the agribusiness people, ginners, Extension specialists, researchers, all contributing to the vitally important work of agriculture.

For someone who’d had a rather provincial existence to that point, there came undreamed-of opportunities to travel — I’ve stood in awe before the Great Pyramid of Giza and the centuries-old mysterious Sphinx; wondered at the strange monolithic formations of Stonehenge; felt insignificant in the midst of the vast Argentine pampas with billions of stars twinkling brilliantly in an breathtakingly ink-black sky; beheld majestic mountain vistas, oceans, lakes, streams; and had memorable visits with farmers on most of the continents (sadly, never made it to Australia), all of them, invariably, with an innate love for the land and the desire that it be kept and cherished into succeeding generations.

Over the years, I spent countless hours in airplanes, hurtling thither and yon, but I never grew tired of looking out at the ever-changing skies, cloud formations, sunrises, sunsets, lightning storms, rainbows, and the marvelous, intricately-patterned earth below, particularly the geometrically distinct patterns of farms, irrigation circles, etc. Always fascinated with flying, I still automatically look skyward when I hear an airplane passing overhead.

Through the four and a half decades of my Farm Press career, I have been continually entranced by the marvelously complex and fascinating world of U.S. agriculture and the people who've kept it — through good times and bad — the most productive food and fiber machine on the planet.

You’re the finest, and it is my great privilege to have known and worked with so many of you … and learned from you. Thank you for your generosity of time and friendship, and your loyalty and support for our publications.

That gratitude also applies in spades to the Farm Press crew, a tightly knit group of very talented, very dedicated people who make possible the best ag publications in the business. They have been, for these many years, family, and I will immensely miss them being a part of my daily life.

In my Farm Press years, our two children have grown into middle age; parents, classmates, family members, and many, many of those in agriculture that I’ve crossed paths with over the decades, are long retired or have died. Darling grandchildren have come along and have tremendously brightened our lives. The eldest, who seemingly not that long ago was a baby in my arms, will be a college grad this spring (she and her mother will receive degrees at the same time). The other girls, one 16 and the twins 13, have before my eyes all too soon become young women, each different, each her own person, each the source of many wonderful memories.

I did a very rough estimate of how many words I've written in my 60-odd years of newspapering. It came to several million, using everything from manual typewriters (remember them?) to IBM Selectrics (a major technology advance for its day and a great typewriter —many is the time I lugged one of those 50-pound machines up the stairs to a motel room somewhere so I could write up the day’s notes), to today’s unbelievably sophisticated laptop computers.

That you've read and often commented on — good or bad — some of the words I've written, I am extremely grateful, even to those whose letters and e-mails began “Dear Idiot Brandon” (or worse).

One of the distressing things, concurrent with the rise of the internet, social media, and 24/7 talk TV/radio, has been the decline of civility and respect for others’ opinions. No one has a monopoly on truth and right, myself very much included, and to those who took issue with my writings but did so in a thoughtful, reasoned manner, you were muchly appreciated. This country was built, and has survived and become the greatest nation on the face of the earth, on the premise that men and women of good will, working together for the common good, can achieve great things. Would that many of today’s leaders could rediscover that principle.

When we’re young and all the world lies ahead, we never give a thought to being old. Then children come along to care for and love, there are responsibilities of work and community, yards to mow, leaves to rake, a thousand and one things to do while we pay little heed to the clock’s relentless tick, tick, tick. Being old is something that’s way out there, that afflicts someone else. Then, poof!, the decades have vanished and an old person stares back from the mirror,

William Saroyan, among this country’s great short story writers, who lived and worked in the midst of the diverse agriculture of early-day Fresno, Calif., published a little book in his later years entitled, “I Used To Believe I Had Forever — Now I’m Not So Sure.”

I can relate.

So many thoughts, so many memories — alas, too many for this space.

I hate goodbyes.

Let’s just say “so long” for now…

Max Armstrong's Daily Updates

Farm Progress America, Dec. 31, 2018

Max Armstrong shares insight on how the commodity markets are being impacted by the partial government shutdown. A key area of interest is whether China has started importing U.S. crops; in addition farmers need information ahead of planting for 2019.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

wlfella/iStock/Getty Images Plus

John Sullivan
‘GREAT AGAIN’: “I think there are great opportunities here in Illinois. We are laying the groundwork to make agriculture in the state great again,” says John Sullivan, newly appointed director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

How working cows prepared new ag director for job

What do cattle and politics have in common? John Sullivan gives a hearty laugh.

“Never take your eye off a mean one! And never turn your back!”

Sullivan, who last week was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture by governor-elect J.B. Pritzker, remembers working a cattle sale for their family business back in 2002, just after he was elected to the Illinois Senate as a Democrat. He was working the ring with a wild cow. When she came after him a couple times, somebody in the crowd hollered out, “She must be a Republican!”

It’s a good story and a good joke that belies a lot of truth. Sullivan, a longtime farmer, auctioneer and Democrat from Rushville, says with cattle you have to look at the situation from their perspective. You have to think ahead and be prepared in cattle production — as in life in general and in the ag department in particular.

“That will be important as I move forward with this position,” he says. “Think ahead, be prepared, gather the facts and make the correct decision.”

Making the decision
Sullivan, who grew up on a farm in Schuyler County, worked in the family business, Sullivan Auctioneers, until he was elected to the Senate in 2002. He spent 14 years there, retiring in 2016 to rejoin the family business. Deciding to go back into public service wasn’t an easy decision for someone working with brothers, sons, daughters-in-law, nieces and nephews.

“That’s an honor to be able to work with your family like that. To make the decision to leave the company was a very difficult one, and I struggled with that immensely,” he says.

A pre-Christmas meeting with the governor-elect and lieutenant governor-elect was the tipping point.

“I was really impressed with his willingness to listen, and to admit when he doesn’t know about an issue. I was impressed with how he gathers information to make a decision,” Sullivan says. “We talked about their vision for Illinois and for agriculture, and I left that meeting thinking it would be a very positive experience.”

Sullivan, who was overwhelmingly elected as a Democrat in a Republican-leaning district, is also impressed with Pritzker’s desire to form a bipartisan government. He points to former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, who’s served on the transition team, to former Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno on the budget transition team, and to the recent appointment of David Harris, a former Republican lawmaker, as director of the Department of Revenue.

“I’m impressed with the fact that he’s done that. It doesn’t matter about the D or R behind the name,” Sullivan adds.

Sullivan’s name was one of a handful that circulated in the weeks leading up to his appointment, and a number of people and organizations in the ag community encouraged him to seek the position. “And let’s be honest, that makes you feel good,” he says, laughing.

From there, he tried to better understand what the position entails, and talked to several former directors of the department. “Their information was very valuable to me in this process,” he adds.

In the end, the call came before Christmas, just before Sullivan’s large end-of-the-year consignment auction, and he asked if Sullivan had a few minutes to talk.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to take you away from your job. Well, actually, I do want to take you away from your job! I’d like to offer you a job for the next four years!’”

Sullivan asked for 24 hours to talk to his family. He then called back and said yes.

Sullivan will go to work after the governor is sworn in on Jan. 14. Between now and then, he’ll wrap up work on the ag transition committee, which he co-chairs with Colleen Callahan. They’ll finish up their report for the governor, which will include recommendations for how to move ag and rural development forward in the state. He also plans to reach out to some of the longtime folks at the Department of Ag after the first of the year, to learn more.

Trust and trade
Sullivan knows he’s about to take the lead of a department with budget challenges, in an industry that’s in the midst of a market downturn.

“Right now the ag community is under stress. We’re facing challenges with trade wars and low commodity prices,” he explains. And it’s happening in a state with budget deficits and financial problems.

“Budgets affect every aspect of government; that’s the reality of it,” he says. “It will take a long time to dig ourselves [the state] out of the hole we’re in now.”

During his Senate tenure, Sullivan served on the appropriations committee, offering a firsthand look at the budget process. He also knows he’ll have to make a case for funding certain programs and staff in the department. “That’s our job to make that case,” he adds.

Sullivan believes he’ll be able to make the right decisions for agriculture, even those that may be less popular with his fellow Democrats in Chicago. And he wants to lead a department that’s on the offense, rather than the defense.

“I remember when the Department of Ag was more progressive and more on the offense in terms of trying to develop markets and build new relationships,” he says, pointing to the damage done by tariffs and trade wars.

“We have to rebuild trust and that won’t just happen on its own. We have to be on the offense and build those relationships and markets,” he says. “The governor absolutely agreed with that.”

Sullivan says he and Pritzker want to figure out how boost rural development in general, beyond farming and agriculture.  “Instead of losing population in rural parts of the state, we want to grow and build opportunities,” Sullivan says. “We have to figure that out.”

He acknowledges it’s a lofty set of goals in a difficult era.

But the lessons: Think ahead, be prepared, gather facts, make the right decision. Never take your eye off a mean one. 

Sullivan may have gathered all the right skills for the job, all from a bunch of cows.


SD Capitol Building SD Department of Tourism
AG LEADER: South Dakota has a new Secretary of the Agriculture.

Vanneman to head South Dakota’s Department of Agriculture

Kim Vanneman — an ideal, S.D., farmer — is the new South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture. She was appointed by Governor-elect Kristi Noem.

"Agriculture is South Dakota's top industry, so it is essential we have a secretary who is as passionate as they are knowledgeable about the opportunities before us," Noem says. "Kim Vanneman shares my vision to develop the state's ag economy and give more young people the ability to thrive as farmers and ranchers in South Dakota. She's a life-long producer and a fierce advocate for agriculture. I'm grateful to have her on board."

Vanneman is co-owner/operator of Vanneman Farms, a diversified farming operation that grows row crops and small grains, finishes feeder pigs and runs a commercial beef cow herd. 

Vanneman served in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 2007 to 2013 and was on the agriculture, natural resource, and education committees. She currently is a director for Farm Credit Services of America, Farm Credit Council, Farm Credit Foundation and FCC Services.

Vanneman is the first woman to serve as the South Dakota secretary of agriculture.

Source: SDDA

sorghum field

Sorghum industry enters 2019 with full-fledged optimism

Looking back on 2018, I couldn’t be more proud of the U.S. sorghum industry. The last 12 months have been the most challenging in decades for American agriculture, and everyone on Team Sorghum — including our farmers, our board members and our staff — stepped up their game. It’s been amazing to see how the industry has responded, and it made weathering 2018 a rewarding (to the extent possible!) experience.

As my predecessor Chris Cogburn wrote about extensively while the Chinese trade saga was unfolding during the first half of the year, we began 2018 knowing we were playing a long game. U.S. sorghum farmers were accused of dumping, or selling below the cost of production, by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Commerce (MOFCOM) on Feb. 4, and we prepared to defend them believing we had an 18-month process of investigation and adjudication ahead of us.

The rest of 2018, as well as much of 2019 and beyond, looked bleak for sorghum. However, due to the extraordinary nature of the circumstances surrounding the U.S.-China trade dispute, the normal 18-month process was greatly shortened, and by spring, the sorghum industry was mounting a defense.

The months after MOFCOM announced the investigation were fascinating — and exhausting. Nine sorghum farmers stepped up to provide information, and before the sun rose in the U.S. on April 4, our attorneys in China had submitted the sorghum industry’s official response in the form of a 2,000-page document.

The document included significantly less information than the mountains of paper used to prepare it, and in all, we collected around 4,500 pages of information from the participating farmers in about seven days. It was a financially invasive exercise, so words can’t express how grateful we were that these nine farmers were committed enough to the future of sorghum to complete the process.

Although we knew there was a long way to go, submitting the response was a big milestone and allowed Team Sorghum to breathe a sigh of relief. However, the year dealt the industry yet another blow when, on April 17, MOFCOM announced preliminary tariffs of 178.6%, halting trade and further weakening an already-shaky economic environment for sorghum farmers. Then, as quickly as the whole situation escalated, it ended.

On May 17, as part of the political settlement with the Chinese company ZTE Corporation, the sorghum investigation was terminated, effective immediately. Our farmers were back in business.

But 2018 wouldn’t let go that easily. Although small amounts of U.S. sorghum made their way to China in early summer, the massive amount of political uncertainty surrounding the U.S.-China trade situation kept farmers on the sidelines of the market.

To make matters worse, tariffs of 25% took effect on July 6 for sorghum and 105 other commodities, so our ability to trade — even without uncertainty — was severely hampered. And, to add insult to injury, drought in the areas of the Sorghum Belt that typically help supply international markets kept us from having a normal-sized crop to sell, anyway. What a year!

Maybe fittingly, given the struggles the sorghum industry had in 2018, the future looked much brighter as the sun was setting on the year.

Discussion between the Trump administration and China seemed to be progressing well; sorghum farmers were set to receive assistance through the Market Facilitation Program on what turned out to be a solid crop in many areas; and abundant fall moisture had completely transformed the countryside across the Sorghum Belt. In fact, many sorghum farmers now believe they could be one rain away from a crop in 2019.

Collectively, our farmers, board and staff are the very embodiment of perseverance, and I couldn’t be more ready to go into battle with Team Sorghum in 2019.

Duff is a strategic business director for National Sorghum Producers. He can be reached by email at or find him on Twitter @sdorghumduff.