It's gut check time for Texas grain sorghum producers: time to ante up, cut the cards, hold'em or fold ‘em.

Here's the problem. The Texas Grain Sorghum Association has too little money to do the work that needs doing to provide the industry with the research, development and promotion necessary to compete with other crops in the state and the country, as well as in the foreign trade arena.

Currently, grain sorghum acreage in Texas is “about half what it was 20 years ago,” says Wayne Cleveland executive director for the association. Cleveland discussed the challenges facing grain sorghum producers during the recent Texas Commodity Symposium in Amarillo.

Acreage reductions and production problems in the past few years have resulted in severe budget constraints for the association. “We don't have an overseas office; we don't have an economic staff; we don't have the research and promotion budgets we need,” Cleveland says.

“We're asking for an increase in the checkoff. Currently, we're getting 17 cents per acre in assessments. We're asking for 25 cents. If we get that, we can go forward, if not, we'll stay where we are.”

Cleveland says ballots went to producers Dec. 5. Growers have until the end of the month to vote. “We'll know the results by Jan. 9,” he says.

No elasticity

“Sorghum has been left out in the past. We don't have a lot of research and farmers plant grain sorghum because they have to, when cotton is hailed out or they can't get a wheat or corn crop in. We want to turn that around so farmers plant because they choose to.”

He says it's a chicken and egg dilemma. “There is no elasticity in the grain sorghum market. Producers are broke and their association is broke. But, in many cases, livestock producers would prefer grain sorghum but run out and have to switch to corn. Feeders want consistency in their rations. We need to grow more sorghum.”

He said assessment funds have helped develop “a huge market in Mexico. And we've done a lot of work on ethanol for Texas. Grain sorghum is the crop of choice for ethanol production and Texas could become the next big ethanol state.”

Cleveland will move his office to Austin in an effort to serve sorghum producers more efficiently. “I'll be closer to growers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend,” he says. “I'll also be close to the Texas legislature. Our legislators need information and being in the capitol helps us get it to them.”

Cleveland says the Texas rain sorghum industry now has the best potential to move forward than at any time in years. “Staffing issues are straightened out and we see a better attitude in the association and in producers. We have some momentum and have come to a check point.”

Cleveland says grain sorghum provides too many advantages to be relegated to second class. “It's drought tolerant, an excellent cover crop, good in rotation and a good feed grain. It's an ideal crop for this area.”

The industry just needs to decide whether to forge ahead or settle for status quo.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com