Farming Is Our Superpower

Recently, you may have seen more sorghum-based foods popping up on grocery store shelves. From gluten-free baking mixes to even pet food, sorghum can be found in a variety of products and is becoming a choice for many people to feed their families. As sorghum has gained popularity, many people are wondering how sorghum is grown and prepared for consumption. What better way to learn than to hear from farmers in the largest sorghum-producing state — Kansas, of course! Cousins Shayne Suppes and Jace Gibbs share a passion for farming and feeding the world. They raise grain sorghum and wheat near Scott City.

While the Suppes’ family farm began in the early 1950s, the Suppes family did not add sorghum into their crop rotation until the early 1960s. Today, the farm has approximately 12,000 acres of dryland crops, which means they rely solely on Mother Nature to provide enough moisture. Because sorghum is drought-tolerant, it’s an ideal crop to grow on dryland. Shayne and Jace are passionate about promoting sorghum in hopes that it will continue to grow in popularity among foodies and farmers alike.

Like many individuals raised on a farm, Shayne loved farming, but considered other careers. While exploring his options, he came to realize how passionate he was about farming and its mission. “We feed people. It’s our superpower!” Shayne said.

Jace began farming full-time on the farm in 2011 after graduating from college. Jace’s main responsibilities include monitoring farm technology and equipment and keeping track of records.

Both Shayne and Jace have taken advantage of leadership opportunities within the sorghum sector such as Leadership Sorghum, a two-year leadership summit focused on developing the next generation of sorghum leaders and hosted by the United Sorghum Checkoff Program. Participants engage in topics such as farm policy, and international markets, alongside expanding their networks. Shayne also served on the United Sorghum Checkoff Board of Directors from 2017 to 2023.

Shayne said Leadership Sorghum paved the way for expanded sorghum production on their farm and in the food-grade sorghum market due to the valuable connections he was able to form during the program.

“I didn’t even know there was a potential to help others that were gluten-sensitive,” he said. “My experience with Leadership Sorghum really opened my eyes.”

Shayne himself cannot tolerate gluten, a factor that has further increased his passion for raising food-grade sorghum. Over a decade ago, gluten-free foods were not as readily available, but sorghum has contributed to a much wider selection of products.

“Sorghum has a pretty neutral flavor, almost the same as rice,” he said. “It is crazy today to think about using gluten-free noodles to make spaghetti; you don’t notice a difference in taste, but you notice how much better you feel.”

Shayne went on to mention that more products are utilizing sorghum, from beverages to baby food.

“All of these avenues are really exciting, and I’m glad we stuck with [raising sorghum],” he said.

From learning about the sorghum industry, its potential end uses and the distinctions between growing food-grade sorghum and other conventional varieties used for livestock or pet food, Shayne and Jace got a lot from the program.

“There isn’t really a difference between food-grade sorghum and conventional sorghum. It is still planted and harvested the same way,” Jace said. “But there are challenges, such as keeping your equipment as clean as possible and keeping our combines clean before harvest, as well as trucks and grain bins.”

While sorghum typically comes in a few different colors, such as red, bronze or white, white sorghum varieties are preferred by many consumers as it closely resembles what is thought of as a ‘traditional’ flour once added to a recipe or food product.

If you’ve never tried sorghum before, be sure to check out the recipes below. There is truly something for everyone!

Ham, Kale and Sorghum Soup

Pearled Sorghum Avocado Bowls

KC Strip Steak over Pearled Sorghum Pilaf

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This story was written by Maddy Meier and Caroline Wingert as a farmer feature for Kansas Farm Food Connection, which you can find here.