The specialty crops of sesame and guar are a good fit for semi-arid, dryland cropping, and the Rolling Plains and South Plains regions have plenty of acres that fit that category, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist.
Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist from Lubbock, highlighted the pros and cons of both these crops that have grown beyond “niche” status at the Red River Crops Conference on Jan. 27 in Childress.
“Specialty crops come and go, and right now cotton prices are poor, so there is a growing interest,” Trostle said. “Sesame has been grown at a consistent level for the past 25 years, and guar has been grown as a seed crop since the 1950s.”
He said both crops have their cons, among them crop insurance availability – guar has none, sesame is limited; hesitancy among financial institutions to make loans for either crop; few labeled herbicides to help combat weed issues; and lack of grower familiarity.
The pros, however, are improving for both crops, which are planted from mid-May to early July, Trostle said. Both are grown in a rotation, primarily with cotton, and producers in general get a bump in their cotton production following these specialty crops.
“Both also are very heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant crops,” he said. “Sesame, if you can get a good stand established, reaches an economic yield on less water compared to most other crops, as does guar. And guar input costs are some of the lowest you can find for a warm-season crop.”
Grown under contract, sesame has only one company, Sesaco, processing the entire U.S. crop, Trostle said. Sesaco is headquartered in Austin, but is 60 percent owned by Mitsubishi of Japan. It has five field representatives in the southern U.S. who also serve as contracting agents, and delivery points are set up throughout Texas and Oklahoma to reduce hauling time for the producers.
Sesame is gaining ground in the crop insurance field after three years of a federally sponsored pilot program including many Texas and Oklahoma counties, Trostle said. As a result, it is now considered a program crop and that helps streamline the process.
Grown primarily in the South Plains, Winter Garden, Concho Valley and Rolling Plains in Texas and in the southwestern and central parts of Oklahoma, with some minor acreage in Georgia and Alabama, most U.S. production is for confectionery purposes, he said.
“The market for sesame has stayed stable for the most part because it is tied to the consumption of food, and people buy hamburgers year-round whether the economy is good or bad,” Trostle said.
He said sesame acreage since 2009 has ranged from 100,000-120,000 acres annually in Texas and Oklahoma, and advised that it takes some experience and practice to get a good stand when planting conditions are not ideal.
“Producers need to think carefully when they consider it, especially any weed problems they might have,” he said.
Getting the herbicide metolachlor, or Dual Magnum, labeled recently was a big plus because it gave producers more ability to treat weeds, Trostle said.
Guar, also grown under contract, currently has a single plant located in Brownsfield to conduct the splitting process – removing the seed coat and embryo from the endosperm, which is where the gum is found. The company that owned the facility in 2014 went bankrupt, and as a result, guar acreage went from 100,000 acres in 2013 to only about 2,000 acres last year.
But a new company has bought the facility and two other companies are looking to get into the guar market with plants at Altus, Oklahoma, and Vernon. Vernon was once a long-time home to guar processing, Trostle said.
“When you have expansion of processing facilities, that’s going to expand the opportunities to grow the crop,” he said.
But much of the U.S. guar market is tied to the oil and gas industry and drilling and fracking. The gum is used as an emulsifier, Trostle said. It can take as much as 20,000 pounds of guar gum for one fracking operation. With yields of 750 pounds per acre on dryland, one fracking operation will use the yields from 80 acres of guar.
“We are working our way through the financial crisis that occurred in U.S. guar processing,” he said. “Although new processing plants might slow the pace of construction because current demand has been reduced in the oil fields, all these groups are taking a long-term view and expect guar to be a profitable crop for years to come.”
Trostle said he anticipated both the Altus and Vernon plants to come online within the year to handle a limited 2015 crop.
He said he and other Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension personnel will continue working with guar with the goal of increasing U.S. acreage to about 250,000 acres, which would include some irrigated acres.
“This volume of guar would be helpful to U.S. users, allowing them to source some of their needs from a domestic crop,” Trostle said. “Being able to rely on U.S. grown guar for part of their needs will reduce their dependency on the volatile international market. And adding in some irrigation will smooth the supply in dry years.”