Charles Miller: Working in the World of Sorghum
Charles Miller is vice president of business development and international sales for Chromatin, which develops and sells hybrid sorghum planting seed for both traditional agriculture markets and for uses in new applications such as sustainable fuels. We get his thoughts on why he decided to work with this one-of-a-kind crop.
Seed World: What are you reading now, and why?
Charles Miller: I am currently re-reading Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. The book is a history of the world and how various cultures and industries developed. Every time I read a chapter I gain a new insight into what might have happened in our history, and it inspires me to think about what we could do differently now to improve the sustainability of the agriculture industry going forward.
SW: What concerns you most about the global sorghum seed industry?
CM: In my opinion, the limited global investment in new technology for sorghum is my biggest concern. Sorghum is the fifth-largest consumed grain on the planet, yet you could count the number of focused sorghum breeders globally on the hands of two people. Sorghum is more challenging to breed than some other crops and has been passed over by many seed companies, but with new breeding techniques we can have a tremendous impact on sorghum. Hopefully the few companies that still focus on sorghum will be empowered by global governments to make those advancements.
SW: What is your No. 1 hobby, and how does it help you in your work?
CM: I truly enjoy hiking and fishing — if I can combine a good walk in the woods with fishing, then even better. The quiet allows me to relax and think creatively about the global farming issues we are facing and how I can play a role in solving those issues.
SW: What do you never travel without?
CM: I never leave without a rain jacket and field boots. You never know what weather you will face when you get to the countryside or some far-off continent. I never want to miss the chance to meet with farmers and see their fields because I didn’t come prepared.
SW: What do you like most about sales?
CM: I don’t think of it as sales, but rather as development. I like to understand the local challenges growers face and provide sorghum as a solution whenever possible — providing solutions is very fulfilling.
SW: What do you dislike most about sales?
CM: I’m a competitive person and don’t like to miss any potential sale. It can also be frustrating when the team misses an opportunity to get new hybrids that can solve issues locally for farmers due to overly complex and burdensome seed registration or phytosanitary rules. This is why it is important to work with ASTA and other regional seed organizations so we can lobby to harmonize rules to facilitate trade, and in tandem, more quickly bring new technology to those farmers that need it most.
SW: Why sorghum?
CM: As I said earlier, sorghum is the fifth-most consumed grain crop in the world and receives little attention. As we shift globally to western diets, we will have limited supplies of water and be forced into harsher environments where crops will need to cope. Sorghum is the perfect crop in this situation. It’s at home in challenging environments, and with proper farming techniques, can provide improved value and sustainability for farmers around the world.
SW: No. 1 piece of management advice?
CM: It is very important in my opinion to build consensus among your team and have local buy-in to remain focused and efficient. You need to be efficient in agriculture to capture the opportunities we are given, and more importantly to create our own opportunities.