A researcher's suggestion to establish a research center for sorghum improvement at Kansas State University is benefiting the state and region, and also is expected ultimately to benefit millions of people worldwide.

Why a sorghum center in the wheat state?

Scott Staggenborg, an agronomist and crop researcher at K-State, explains: Kansas is the leading producer of grain sorghum in the United States. In 2008, farmers and ranchers in the state produced 45.4 percent (214,500,000 bushels) of the nation's crop. In 2009, the state's producers produced 58.6 percent (224,400,000 bushels) of the nation's crop.

"Grain sorghum is, however, more than a cash crop for Kansas," said Staggenborg, who credited both statistics to "Kansas Farm Facts," a USDA publication (2009 and 2010 editions, respectively).

He also credited, Mitch Tuinstra, former sorghum breeder at K-State, for the idea.

"Increasing interest in grain sorghum is driving research in crop production (plant breeding to increase yields, insect and disease resistance, weed control, and production strategies, for example), and applications for grain-based food and grain products," Staggenborg, said.

Sorghum is a gluten-free grain, and that makes it a candidate as the grain base in the expanding gluten-free product market, he said. It also is a rich source of naturally occurring plant-based phytochemicals and antioxidants known to have cancer-preventing qualities.

"Establishing the center at K-State made a lot of sense," said Staggenborg, who cited ongoing collaborations across six departments in the College of Agriculture, as well as departments in the Colleges of Engineering and Human Ecology, and with the Center for Grain and Animal Health Research operated in Manhattan, Kan., by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The addition of collaborative research with Texas A&M and Texas Tech, universities both located in a sorghum-producing state, has prompted a recent name change (from the Center for Sorghum Improvement) to the Great Plains Sorghum Improvement and Utilization Center.

"This is a great time to be a crop researcher," Staggenborg said. We are working together to benefit a global society with a need for sustainable agriculture and health-promoting foods, yet the research also stands to benefit Kansas' economy and increase its stature -- and service -- as a world food producer.

For more information about the Sorghum Center or crop research at Kansas State University, contact Staggenborg at 785-532-7214, or go to: www.agronomy.ksu.edu and click on "Research."