Where there is value, there is business opportunity – even on the rural Kansas plains.
Sure, for me, the perfect snack is a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread. However, it seems a growing sector of the American public can’t eat gluten products.
But this quarter’s Agland isn’t about the gluten-free debate. Instead, it is about value-added agriculture and a fourth-generation Kansas farmer who saw an opportunity to take the milo he grows on his farm and find a niche market for an ancient, naturally gluten-free crop.
No, milo isn’t a superstar in Kansas like corn and wheat, nor has it seen the same research dollars or private investment in the past.
But in a state where farmers grow more sorghum and in an area where the Ogallala Aquifer continues to decline, Scott County-area farmer Earl Roemer is investing. He is marketing the sorghum he grows as flour – for both the wholesale and retail market. Nu Life Market, which he began in 2004, has seen sales grow by 150 percent in the past three years, thanks to the gluten-free movement.
But he is not the only one capitalizing on sorghum. Sorghum checkoff funding is currently working to increase crop yields and improve seed technology. Dollars are also spent on expanding markets, increasing demand and developing new uses.
Moreover, says Roemer, sorghum uses half the water of corn.
Milo, it seems, has a growing, bright future.
Roemer’s company has created more than 20 jobs so far, with prospects to double by next year. And Scott County – like more than 70 other rural Kansas counties that saw population declines after the 2010 census – is seeing growth. The 2013 population estimates show a 2 percent increase in population, although Roemer’s fledgling business is just one of the reasons.
Hopefully, the rural revival on the plains continues in other areas of rural Kansas. Maybe more homegrown entrepreneurs like Roemer will have the opportunity to return to their communities and start up businesses, whether they are agriculture-related or something else.
Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel’s agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (800) 766-3311, ext. 320.