Sorghum producers will have increased funding for research, market development and educational efforts, after USDA approval of a National Sorghum Checkoff. USDA will begin collecting assessments July 1.

National Sorghum Producers President Dale Murden said the checkoff will play an important role in the sorghum industry’s future. “Now is the time to invest in sorghum,” said Murden. “A National Sorghum Checkoff will leverage private industry investment, while partnerships with public and private research and development operations will help bring technology to our fields.”

Tim Lust, NSP CEO, said the producer-funded program will allow NSP to tackle both short-term and long-term research projects. “Short-term goals include production research, things like improved weed control,” Lust said.

“Long-term research efforts will include cold tolerance, something that has worked extremely well for cotton and corn.”

Lloyd C. Day, administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service said next steps in implementing a national checkoff include a certification process that “will begin for organizations to become eligible to put forward names for the National Sorghum Checkoff Board. USDA will then start accepting board nominations from these organizations and the secretary of agriculture will appoint directors to serve on the National Sorghum Checkoff Board.”

The Sorghum Promotion, Research and Information order will collect 0.6 percent of net market value for grain sorghum. The assessment for sorghum forage such as hay and silage, .35 percent of market value, and will be collected only from first handlers who purchase more than 5,000 tons per year.

Lust said NSP will work with sorghum handlers and producers to provide an efficient transition to a national checkoff. “Our goal is to make this as smooth a process as possible. We invite people to call our office if they have any questions.”

Matt King of the Arkansas Farm Bureau said the organization was worried that research funds targeted specifically for Arkansas could be significantly reduced under a national checkoff program. Arkansas has had a state checkoff program in place since 1997.

“While Arkansas still has some concerns about the recently passed National Sorghum Checkoff, we are actively working with the AMS and other state boards and organizations to establish the national board and to let farmers and other effected businesses know the new checkoff is to be implemented July 1,” King said.

The NSP board and sorghum producers nationwide have worked during the past two years to establish a National Sorghum Checkoff. Within three years, producers will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum. “NSP looks forward to working with the National Checkoff Board to help solve industry problems and increase sorghum profitability in producers’ fields,” said Murden.

“I am excited to be at this point in the process,” Lust said. “We look forward to working with producer leaders to create positive results for sorghum growers.”

Falling acreage, tech gap cited as need for checkoff

From 1984 to 2006, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported a drop in planted sorghum acreage of 10.8 million acres. According to NASS, the 2006 sorghum crop was 277.5 million bushels, compared to 866.2 million bushels in 1984.

Declining sorghum acres and production have led to decreased private investment in sorghum. These declines brought about a “technology gap” between sorghum and other crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. This gap can be overcome by producers investing in their own research through a national checkoff.

The Sorghum Promotion, Research and Information Order provides authority for self-help investment for an industry facing several daunting challenges. The investment of checkoff funds can address a lack of yield improvement and technology, enhance sorghum market development and promotion, and stimulate lagging ethanol research through focused research, information, and promotion programs.

Some initial objectives of checkoff investments include increased crop yields, technology improvement, market enhancement, and increased awareness of sorghum as both a food grain and a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production. Impacts on first handlers and importers will be minimal. The proposed checkoff enjoys broad support from the sorghum industry.

Within three years of the start of collections, a referendum must be held for producers to vote on the checkoff. Sorghum is holding a delayed referendum because, at this point, no credible list of U.S. sorghum growers exists since only 65 percent of base acres are planted each year.

The period between the first collection of assessments and the referendum will allow USDA to compile a list of producers so they may be notified of their right to vote in the referendum.