When it comes to promoting Kansas grain products, it pays to be open-minded.

While wheat and cattle dominate the agricultural markets in Kansas, a western Kansas farmer has found a way to convert a trend more associated with the natural food movement into a business opportunity at home.

Scott County farmer Earl Roemer’s company, Nu Life, has tapped into the growing gluten-free market. Throughout the years more people have adopted a gluten-free diet, some because of an autoimmune disorder known as celiac disease that affects digestion, others because they want food that isn’t genetically modified.

Roemer launched the company in 2004, and 10 years later the market has caught up. Today, Nu Life is expanding, and Roemer expects to mill more sorghum, hire more people and sell more product – all from a high-tech facility in Scott County.

Several ingredients came together for Nu Life’s success, however.

First, it required Roemer’s desire to find additional markets for sorghum and the vision to see where those markets might exist. That required some thought about emerging trends and positioning the company to capitalize on them.

It also required investment in higher education. Roemer said that he works closely with KSU to develop sorghum flour and product recipes that offer the taste and texture that consumers want. Without K-State’s help, Roemer likely would be left on his own to test and develop his products – adding to his expense and keeping his company from the research and experience available at K-State.

Finally, Nu Life’s success also required leadership that was open to new ideas about how a traditional agricultural product can become part of a new movement. Had Roemer opted instead to do the same thing his predecessors had done or what everyone around him was doing, his company wouldn’t exist.

Thankfully, those ingredients came together, packaged with a growing demand for gluten-free products, to create another opportunity for a small western Kansas town to enjoy the worldwide marketplace that is built – in a variety of ways – on feeding a growing population.