By Nate Blum
Jimmy Fletcher spent 12 years in the U.S. Army. In his words, he was a "flight attendant" aboard a Chinook helicopter for much of that time. He'll also tell you that while your flight will always be on time, don't ask for peanuts or an in-flight movie.
If you would have told that "flight attendant," who grew up in Florida, that one day he would be running his own family farm in northeast Nebraska, he probably would have handed you a parachute and asked you to depart his aircraft. Yet, here he is — growing sorghum, corn, soybeans and wheat in Stanton and Pierce counties, not far from the South Dakota border.
Jimmy met the love of his life, Rebecca, while driving a delivery truck through Norfolk, Neb., in the early part of this millennium. She worked at a local veterinary clinic. Like any young man suffering from a case of romantic arrhythmia, Jimmy dropped what he was doing to give his new bride the life that she had always dreamed of.
For Rebecca, that meant life on the farm. She grew up on the family farm, after all — a family farm that her grandfather started after he returned from service in World War II. He made a living off the land, raising five children on 300 acres of row crops. Three of those five children stayed on the farm, which eventually was passed down to Rebecca's father in the 1980s.
After a brief time managing a small dairy operation in southeast Nebraska, Jimmy and Rebecca moved back to Pierce County to help her father, whose health began to fail. As beginning farmers, they looked for crops that would offer low input costs and good yields. Sorghum was a natural fit.
"We put pen to paper and knew that financially we would come out ahead by planting sorghum," Rebecca says. "What we didn't foresee was the opportunity to market it through nontraditional avenues. There were a number of buyers looking for sorghum, which surprised us."
Another deciding factor in favor of sorghum was the later planting season. Because sorghum is typically planted in May through mid- to late June, Jimmy found that he could let his fields dry out after a wet spring. This relieved some of the pressure of planting corn or soybeans in April when some of his fields often were muddy.
Three years later, Jimmy and Rebecca are thriving on their small family farm. They have adopted no-till practices and started a sheep herd. They market their sorghum, maximizing revenues by being proactive, rather than reactive to the general market price. They've also found that the sheep prefer a diet that includes sorghum.
For Jimmy and Rebecca, including sorghum in their operation has made the difference between success and failure for their beginning farm family. Jimmy says, "Some of the neighbors kind of looked at me funny when we got started with this operation. They only want to grow the traditional corn and soybeans rotation on their farms. But sorghum has been a really good fit for us. I hope more producers start to reconsider adding sorghum into their cropping systems."
Blum is executive director of the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board.