I don’t have to remind anyone of the ramifications of the Great Lockdown, the International Monetary Fund’s name for the current economic downturn. From those who have had contracts with ethanol plants canceled to those dumping milk, farmers everywhere are feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, despite all the negativity we have a lot to be thankful for, so I asked a few sorghum farmers to help me find the silver lining.
“Basis is promising,” says NSP board chairman Dan Atkisson, who hails from Stockton, Kan.
“I get the feeling Kansas sorghum acres will be up quite a bit,” he says, referring to the excitement the recent uptick in Chinese purchases of sorghum have created across the nation’s largest sorghum-producing state.
Atkisson’s neighbor and sorghum checkoff board chairman Craig Poore agreed.
“Sorghum has seen a much-needed boost in exports, which is showing great support for the 2020 crop,” says Poore, who farms one county east of Atkisson near Alton, Kan. “We’ve also had moisture across the state in recent days, and while some areas have received more than others, seeing the dust settle is calming in its own right.”
Sorghum checkoff board vice chairman Kent Martin summed up the sentiment well.
“In a farm environment where most crops and most outlooks are relatively poor, we can see hope on the horizon with continued international interest in and export purchases of sorghum,” Martin says, adding he will continue to plant sorghum on his farm near the aptly-named town of Hopeton, Oklahoma.
“Because of this interest, I believe sorghum will take me further than other crops,” he says.
Former NSP board chairman Don Bloss took a step back and focused on the big picture.
“Everyone is healthy, and we’re able to see our grandkids almost daily thanks to technology,” says Bloss, who farms near Pawnee City, Neb.
“And, we still live in a great country,” Bloss adds emphatically.
While many farmers are preparing to plant in great conditions, some are facing weather challenges on top of market uncertainty. However, this hasn’t put an end to Jim Massey’s optimism. Massey serves as sorghum checkoff board secretary and farms just miles from the Gulf of Mexico near Robstown, Texas.
“The crop across the board looks amazingly good given the shortage of rainfall we’ve had since January 1,” Massey says.
“I think our sorghum still has great potential if we can get water to it in the next few weeks,” he adds, noting some crops looked better than others but that he was optimistic overall.
Newly-minted sorghum checkoff board member Josh Birdwell has had the opposite problem on his Malone, Texas, farm this year.
“We’ve been extremely wet,” says the central Texan. “We’re still trying to mud corn into the ground here but will probably switch a good number of planned corn acres to sorghum and a few to cotton. On the bright side, we’ve got nowhere to go but up!”
Kendall Hodgson, who farms near Little River, Kan., and currently serves on the sorghum checkoff board, had his fair share of rain last year. Hodgson farms in an area of Kansas that was decimated by flooding in 2019.
“We’re about two-thirds finished planting corn, and it’s going into really good soil conditions,” says Hodgson, also a former NSP board member. “Our weather this winter was wet but lately has been fairly nice. We remember last year when so many of our efforts were undone by the next flood, so it’s good to be busy and have meaningful work to do.”
Hodgson went on to talk warmly about his and his son’s succession plan and their shared hope to preserve the family’s dream for future generations.
It’s a joy to work for farmers and impossible not to be inspired by their optimism each day.