Quantifying the climate impact of incorporating sorghum and other tools into rotations while serving as a trajectory for the sorghum industry’s continuous environmental improvement throughout this decade and the next is the focus of a five-year, up to $65 million project by National Sorghum Producers (NSP).

Funding for the project was provided by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. USDA announced award recipients Sept. 14 for pilot projects totaling $2.8 billion to create market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices. 

“This is a watershed day for the sorghum industry,” Said NSP CEO Tim Lust.

Rather than focusing on soil carbon sequestration alone, the NSP project will create a pathway for the impact of all practices to be quantified, tracked and verified with the intent to monetize these practices in ecosystems services markets of all kinds with an initial focus on low carbon fuel markets. 

Payments will be made to producers to introduce sorghum along with a suite of additional practices, and a strong measurement and quantification program will accompany these payments in order to highlight the climate impacts of associated practices.

The program will center specifically on enabling farmers to take advantage of added value under the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The market requires the most rigid quantification, monitoring, reporting and verification systems and already consumes up to one-third of the U.S. sorghum crop annually. 

“The most important aspect of any program to incentivize climate-smart agricultural practices is robust demand from ecosystem services markets,” NSP sustainability strategy consultant John Duff said. “The LCFS is the most reliable and longest-standing such market, and building our program around its rigorous data requirements will enable a five-year beta test of our industry’s readiness for meeting the needs of ecosystem services markets for the coming decades.”

The target geography of the project includes portions of six states and covers an average of 67% of the sorghum industry, or 4.4 million acres annually. The area includes more than 20,000 sorghum farmers and a region vitally important to U.S. agriculture.

Irrigated agriculture in this area, which is highly threatened, is particularly important. Sorghum has a key role to play in prolonging irrigated agriculture in the region. Furthermore, the U.S. High Plains is the world’s leading region for nitrogen use efficiency and mitigation of nitrate leaching, volatilization and runoff. Sorghum is a primary tool in these mitigation efforts, and incorporating the crop into rotations in this region can improve the carbon footprint of U.S. agriculture overall.

Timely consultation and technical delivery to farms is vital to the success of this project. As farmers choose to implement novel approaches to benefit their landscapes, such as improved biodiversity practices, local conservationists and biologists in our partnership network steeped in wildlife habitat conservation will be integral to helping farmers deliver more sorghum products with positive biodiversity impacts.

The project will also include a diversity and community outreach program that will focus on in-reach and outreach to underserved communities in the project target area with a primary focus of creating opportunities for underserved farmers to participate in climate-smart sorghum production and realize the benefits of ecosystems services markets.

“Kansas Black Farmers Association (KBFA) is working with NSP to create climate-smart agriculture best practices that will help the BIPOC farmers in our membership increase sustainable productivity, strengthen farmers' resilience, reduce agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration,” said KBFA Executive Director and President JohnElla Holmes.

In addition to National Sorghum Producers, project partners and supporters include Kansas Black Farmers Association, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sustainable Environmental Consultants, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, Arable, Galvanize Climate Solutions, Kansas State University, Texas Tech University, Conestoga Energy Partners, Kansas Ethanol, Pratt Energy, Western Plains Energy, White Energy, American Coalition for Ethanol, Peoria Tribe Of Indians of Oklahoma, Women Managing the Farm, Kansas Agri-Women, Nu Life Market, Pinion, Kansas Department of Agriculture, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, Kansas Water Office, Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, Kashi, RIPE, Trust in Food, Colorado State University, Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University, Argonne National Lab, National Cotton Council, Field to Market, Danone, Colorado Sorghum Association, Kansas Grain Sorghum Association, New Mexico Sorghum Association, Oklahoma Sorghum Association, Texas Grain Sorghum Association, Bayer Crop Science, CoBank, High Plains Farm Credit, ServiTech and No Chaff Group.