With everything that is in the works, Nebraska sorghum producers may look back on 2020 as a watershed year.
Nebraska Sorghum Board Chair Nate Blum, who is celebrating his one-year anniversary in the position, said the future of Nebraska sorghum is looking strong.
“It has taken many steps to get here,” he said. “But those steps are why we are where we are.”
Blum said the Board has been working to broaden sorghum markets in the state and abroad, improve awareness of the commodity and develop the next generation of agribusiness professionals to continue building on potential achievements.
The first step is to provide markets for the commodity. This will be accomplished with a “one-two punch” process, he said: Attracting sorghum processors to the state and increasing the appeal of the commodity with value-added features.
Without going into too much detail, Blum said the Board had indeed identified a location for a milling plant and has been working diligently with established sorghum processing companies to take the next step and commit to making the move to Nebraska. The other “punch” is conceivably less challenging.
“Nebraska is great at growing crops,” Blum said. “We aren’t as good at providing value-added products.”
Some of the concepts the Board has been focused on include using sorghum crops to make spray-foam insulation. Soybeans are used this way now. There is an effort underway to provide sorghum to fish food manufacturers in the Vietnamese market.
Perhaps the most promising value-added market is using sorghum to make ethanol. Blum said that the grain is more digestible than corn for the ethanol process. Currently, regulatory issues in California are holding up the process, he said.
These ideas were well-received by the members of the House Agriculture Committee when Blum and others visited last month.
“We are working on organizing these projects and getting them off the ground,” Blum said.
Helping in that regard is the Sorghum Board’s expanded social media presence. Through the efforts of Blum and a group of interns, the Sorghum Army web campaign was launched. The toughness and versatility of the crop is highlighted for potential consumers and producers.
“Sorghum Army gets a conversation started,” Blum said. “It was developed to appeal to an urban demographic. It increases brand awareness.”
The 11 interns involved in the new marketing strategy are part of a program developed in cooperation with Brandon Keller and his Northeast Community College agriculture marketing class. They created the “Sgt. Sorghum” logo and are working to inform people of the job opportunities in sorghum production.
“Mentorship is imperative,” Blum said. “The Sorghum Army campaign also provides a diversified revenue stream for the organization.”
One good thing about being a relatively smaller commodity in the state is being able to try new ventures without fear, he said.
“My board has a progressive mindset and is willing to try new things,” Blum said. “We don’t want to talk about problems without talking about solutions.”
Jon Burleson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.