Posted on Mar 11, 2019
Agriculture plays an essential role in society. Not only do farmers and ranchers work hard to grow the food that is vital to our lives, the raw goods they produce are used to create the clothing we wear and many other products we use every day. March is an excellent time to celebrate agriculture and the hard work of agricultural producers! Why? National Ag Week kicks off March 10, 2019, to showcase the stories behind agriculture and why it is important for us all. To celebrate, we teamed up with farmer Shayne Suppes to give you an inside look at a sorghum farm.
While Suppes grew up on the farm, a desire to experience more beyond the turn row led him on a unique path back to the farm today. After high school, he landed a football scholarship at Fort Hays State University, soon realized it wasn’t the route for him and went back home. Longing to explore more, he went to the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix to become a certified mechanic for Harley Davidson. He spent the next seven years in Southern California and Colorado working on Harley Davidsons before choosing to return home to the family farm in Scott City, Kansas. “Sometimes you have to go out and try what you think you want to do to find out where you really need to be.”
Growing up, I lived in town, but I've been a farm kid all my life. My grandfather moved his family out here to Scott County, Kansas, in 1950 after World War II when he got home. So, I'm the third generation to farm on the same land here. Farming has been in my family, dating all the way back to our roots in Germany. Our farm is about 12,000 acres and is non-irrigated and mostly no-till. We utilize a two-out-of-three-year crop rotation. Our big crop is sorghum and we also grow white wheat and sell certified white wheat seed.
My grandfather start growing grain sorghum here in the mid-1960s. I didn't know anything about food-grade sorghum specifically until I participated in the first class of Leadership Sorghum. That's when I really became passionate about the food end of sorghum. I think we're on about year six or seven that we've been growing food-grade sorghum. It's wonderful, I really enjoy it.
It fits really well into our crop rotation. It's hard to make a living growing only one crop. So, the ideal thing here is we plant our sorghum into our last year's wheat stubble, which we run a stripper head, and that makes for a really nice seed bed. It's been not that long ago that our wheat acres outdid our sorghum acres. But in the past 10 years, that has kind of reversed and the per acre profitability seems to be a little bit better with sorghum.
In a low year, we plant about 4,000 acres, and on a on a high year we plant 5,000 acres of sorghum. A lot of it depends on moisture, yearly precipitation, time of planting and time of the first freeze. But if everything goes right, it's not that difficult to grow 100 bushels per acre, which equates to approximately 5,600 pounds of grain sorghum per acre. If things are really good, you can get up into the 125-140 bushels per acre range. In this part of the world sorghum can grow, and grow well.
I like to see how sorghum responds to different farming situations. One year we had a failed wheat crop, which means the crop did not emerge from the soil due to environmental conditions, and so we planted sorghum after. The wheat ended up not using any of the fertilizer we put on the field and we just used our regular fertilizer program on the sorghum crop, and it just exploded. That was really awesome to see, and that particular field grew 164 bushels per acre. I thought that was neat to see as a farmer.
Yes, I do. There's always a box of white sorghum under the counter. Every week or so, we'll dig into the cabinet and use it like rice as a side as well as in the recipes from Simply Sorghum. I like the texture of it, and the Instant Pot does a great job cooking it. I want to start baking with it, too. It also works well for me because my stomach tends to be sensitive to gluten and sorghum is gluten free. It's just good to eat and is good for your digestive system.
It was a breakfast recipe we made up at home. We made a bed of sorghum with a slice of avocado and an over-easy egg on top. We just let the sorghum be itself and didn’t add any seasoning. Something just a little different and simple.
I think sharing sorghum’s story with consumers is really important. I'd like them to know the health benefits and see all the different things you can do with it. I didn't know all the things you could do with it before Leadership Sorghum. I grew up growing sorghum but had no idea. Also, what we grow is what we eat - I eat my own product, it's under the kitchen counter.
Read more about Suppes’ story here. What else do you want to learn from sorghum farmers? Share your questions with us on social media – Simply Sorghum on Simply Sorghum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.