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Sorghum United CEO talks climate-smart crop

Nate Blum explains the challenges and potential of educating farmers and consumers about sorghum and millet.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

August 8, 2023

4 Min Read
Close-up of sorghum in field
INTERNATIONAL GRAIN: Grain sorghum and millets are a major part of human diets in many parts of the world, but no matter where you go, sorghum is an important crop that is growing in stature — including in the U.S. Imagesines/Getty Images

Nate Blum knows a little bit about sorghum. The former executive director of the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board oversaw a doubling of planted acres of sorghum in the state.

As of earlier this year, Blum transitioned into a new role as CEO of Sorghum United, a nongovernmental organization working internationally on consumer markets and education related to sorghum and other grains. That’s good timing because the United Nations has announced that 2023 is the “International Year of Millets.”

While sorghum may not be considered a major staple in consumer diets in the U.S., in a recent interview with Blum, he told Farm Progress that millets and sorghum — as non-GMO, gluten free and ancient grains — are a regular part of diets in places such as India and Africa.

In the U.S., sorghum is a staple in the livestock feed, pet food and biofuel industries. “Through industry advocacy, demand is growing here as well,” Blum says. “Sorghum is kind of where corn was 100 years ago, as there is a reawakening to the love of other crops. There is room on the plate for everyone.”

Global presence

At Sorghum United. there are at least 100 active stakeholders, ranging from farmers and seed dealers to researchers, all trying to find ways to advance the sorghum industry globally. “This isn’t just for education, but in the big picture, sorghum and millets help to address food security issues, malnutrition and economic prosperity,” Blum says.

He isn’t surprised by the growth in sorghum acres in Nebraska. “We remind growers that sorghum is good in drought, but it is even better in wet conditions,” Blum says.

During his time with the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board, he made great effort in reaching out to growers and consumers, helping them understand the value of sorghum as human food, pet food, fuel and fiber.

“That’s part of the reason we were able to help farmers add sorghum back into the crop rotations, to give them the resources they needed, and to help them understand the benefits to the economy and environment,” Blum explains.

In an era when sustainability is a crucial buzzword, Blum says that sorghum delivers. “No one should be planting just one crop,” he says. “We find from research at Kansas State University that the root mass of sorghum goes down 6 feet. It means healthier soil microbes, breaking up compaction and making it easier for the crop to tap into soil moisture.”

According to Blum, there can be up to an 8% increase in yields for crops following sorghum, and it uses about one-third the water of some other crops.

“If you are on dryland, it goes dormant when we don’t get rain, but when it does rain, it comes back,” Blum says. “There are still some issues around the crop insurance model for sorghum, but there is a pilot project offering a new model, so I’m eager to see how that helps farmers. It’s something we worked on.”

Working together

Sorghum United is about finding ways countries and trade partners can work together, Blum says. “One of the challenges on trade missions is just getting the terminology right,” he explains. “Wherever you go, sorghum is called something different, so we put together a series of 10 posters from the ‘Sorgho Squad’ to embody sorghum and recognize that all of these terms for the crop are the same thing.”

In addition, there are two new books and two more coming out by Christmas that are like what Blum calls “Indiana Jones meets Captain Planet,” except for the sorghum world, helping to educate consumers and youth about nutrition and the environment as it relates to sorghum as a crop.

The group also is exploring ways to help local economies benefit from sorghum by growing the crop or adding value processing as a revenue source for small-holder farmers.

According to the National Sorghum Producers, the Sorghum Belt in the U.S. runs from South Dakota down to south Texas, grown primarily on dryland acres. Kansas tops the sorghum list with well over 3 million acres, followed by Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. The June USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service report noted that Nebraska farmers planted 340,000 acres to sorghum in 2023, up 6% from the previous year.

Learn more about Sorghum United at

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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