On its first anniversary, the United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP) is celebrating a year of progress, from the creation of the organization to the granting of $1.25 million in research funding.

The checkoff program was created to address the issue of declining sorghum production and demand, which has resulted in less private investment in sorghum, and thus fewer new seed varieties and crop protection technologies compared to other crops. The USCP is charged with working to better the sorghum industry through research, promotion and information.

"We had to build an organization from the ground floor so we could effectively administer the checkoff," said Bill Greving, sorghum grower from Prairie View, Kan., and current USCP chairman. "The goal of every board member is to improve the profitability of sorghum producers. Without that unity of mission, we would not have been able to make as much progress as we have."

The checkoff officially began July 2008, although the 13-member board of directors in charge of overseeing the program were not approved and seated by the USDA until November 2008. Since that time, several projects have been undertaken to meet organizational objectives and enhance the sorghum industry, including:

Development of a strategic plan to guide the board's decisions.

Establishment of a management contract with the National Sorghum Producers Association and the hiring of staff to lead key program areas in research, market development and communications.

The granting of $1.25 million in research funding in four key areas to help growers increase profitability. These include:

Developing regional production handbooks that compile the best practices for growing sorghum. Scientists, agronomists and Extension experts are compiling the handbooks, which should be ready for distribution to sorghum producers this winter.

Conducting field plot demonstrations to showcase new over-the-top weed control technologies and optimal irrigation strategies. This technology would allow farmers to irrigate when the plant most needs it and help optimize profit margins by combining good yield potential with timely, proper irrigation.

Developing basic research on sorghum germplasm, drought and cold tolerance traits, including lab screening technologies, gene identification and marker development. The work will allow seed companies to tag genes important to drought tolerance and move more rapidly into elite hybrid lines to more quickly get these traits to producers.

Exploring new uses for food in the areas of gluten-free, antioxidant and glycemic index properties of the grain. It is believed sorghum has many unique characteristics that may help in fighting cancers, diabetes and obesity. Additional research is focused on developing genomic tools for use in sorghum and developing and characterizing mutations in sorghum.

The granting of $750,000 to fund market development priorities in several key areas, including creation of a dedicated resource within the U.S. Grains Council to improve foreign market development, increased inclusion of sorghum for ethanol production, and the favorable positioning of sorghum as a preferred feedstock for advanced biofuels.

Some of the funded research projects will generate results for use by growers relatively soon, such as the production handbooks, while others are more intensive efforts that will produce more long-term results.

"In a year or two we should be able to help producers use fertility more efficiently," Greving said. "But cold tolerance, drought tolerance and higher yields are long term and complicated. People won't see results overnight, but for the long-term future of the crop, these efforts are extremely important."

The United Sorghum Checkoff Program was established in 2008 under the authority of the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996. Funding for the checkoff is derived from value based assessments on all grain sorghum and forage sorghum produced in the U.S. as well as from a similar assessment on imported grain sorghum. A 13-member producer board of directors administers the national checkoff program, subject to USDA approval.