Sesame has been a good crop option for Texas Rolling Plains’ farmers Delby Darr and Kyle Streit, who farm together near Iowa Park. They like the drought and heat tolerance they get from sesame, and they say it works well in rotation with winter wheat.
Both were on hand in Childress, Texas, at the second annual Red River Crops Conference, to learn a bit more about production strategies for sesame.
“Getting a good stand is a critical issue,” Darr said. “We need good soil conditions.” Emergence can sometimes be a problem with the small seed.
They say weeds can be troublesome, as well. Few herbicide options are available, and the crop grows slowly early on, offering weeds an opportunity to establish and compete before the sesame plants can shade them out.
“We use a burndown herbicide and then Dual Magnum. That works well,” Darr said. “We also plant in 15-inch rows. Sesame grows well after it gets started, and narrow rows help it compete with weeds. The first 30 days, though, it grows slowly.”
Insect pressure is typically not an issue in sesame, according to Calvin Trostle, Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist, who discussed opportunities and challenges with sesame and guar production during the conference. He said some growers have reported damage from grasshoppers.
Darr and Streit said they saw significant damage from grasshopper infestations last year. “From the outside edge of the field to about 40 feet in we had a lot of damage,” Darr said. “They came in as soon as the sesame came out of the ground. We had extremely heavy grasshopper pressure.”
Trostle said grasshoppers typically are worse during drought years. In-season pests are not usually a problem for sesame.
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“Sesame is a minimal input crop, if it’s planted correctly.” In addition to insect tolerance, sesame is also drought- and heat-tolerant and is not favored by either feral hogs or deer.
“I’ve never seen any deer or hog damage in sesame,” Streit said. Other farmers in the audience agreed that deer and wild hogs might go into sesame fields but do not eat the plants.
Weed control critical
Trostle cautioned growers that sesame is not a good choice for weedy fields because of limited herbicide options and the slow start. He agrees with Darr and Streit that a burndown treatment with something like glyphosate is a good start. In-season herbicide options include Dual Magnum, Poast,
Sonalan and Select Max. He recommends that growers check labels for use restrictions and application timing recommendations.
Trostle also agrees that proper planting—timing, soil condition, seed placement and potential for crusting—is a critical factor with the tiny seed. “Optimum soil temperature at planting is 70 degrees,” he said. “That’s higher than for other crops.”
Planting window runs from mid-May through the first of July. That could extend into mid-July, he said, for the Texas Rolling Plains. “But earlier is better.”
Sesame is not particularly hard to plant. Modern planter plates can be set to accommodate the small seed. “You do need a firm seedbed and to set planters correctly to assure the right planting depth. Watch for crusting.” Trostle said small seed may not emerge properly through crusted soil, but waiting may be the best option. Running a rotary hoe or shallow disk over the row may do more harm than good. He said producers may plant sesame no-till but that’s not a preferred practice. He also prefers wider rows, 30 inches.
Planting rate is a bit heavy, 2.5 to 4.5 pounds of seed per acre, with a target of 3 pounds per acre to get a bit more than 30 seed per foot of row. “Producers may drop that seeding rate by one-fourth to one-third if they plant into good soil conditions.” The crop may not need nitrogen, depending on soil tests, but recommendations call for 30 to 60 pounds per acre. “Producers don’t want to be nitrogen deficient.”
Trostle said sesame is not a crop growers would typically choose to irrigate. “It is among the most drought tolerant crops in the Texas High Plains.” He said a light irrigation, 4 to 6 inches, could improve prospects during a drought. Yield expectations for dryland production should run about 500 pounds per acre. Irrigated sesame could push 1,000 pounds per acre. He says one inch of water equates to about 100 pounds of sesame seed yield.
Harvest can pose problems, also because of the small seed, and Trostle said one of the best tools available to prevent harvest loss is duct tape to seal up holes and cracks in combines and trailers.
Darr and Streit agree. “We patch up open spaces on the combine with duct tape,” Darr says. “It makes sense.”
Trostle said sesame defoliates naturally and dries in the field. He also noted that Sesaco, a sesame seed company that serves Texas and Oklahoma farmers, provides production and harvest guides.
Sesaco has offered acre contracts with price for 2015 estimated at 35 cents per pound for dryland and 45 cents for irrigated acres. Darr said contracts also may depend on acreage. Last year producers with more than 500 acres could contract for 45 cents per pound; with less than 500 acres the rate dropped to 40 cents. “We have issues with discounts, too,” he said. Cracked seed, oil content and trash may result in discounts, Streit added.
High quality sesame may garner a premium.
Darr also would like to see a more favorable insurance option for sesame. He said crop loss last year was significant but still not deep enough to trigger an insurance payment. Trostle agrees that insurance coverage remains one of the negatives for sesame production.
Darr and Streit plan on growing sesame again this year. They rotate with winter wheat and say rotation is a necessity for sesame. “We can’t get insurance if it’s not in rotation.”
Trostle also discussed guar, another crop with minimal production costs but “not a crop of choice to satisfy a heavy debt load.”
Guar, like sesame, is heat- and drought-tolerant. “It’s not good in a humid environment and is not a good option for weedy ground.”
He says it’s a good rotation crop with cotton, and some old research out of Chillicothe, Texas, shows a 15 percent yield bump for cotton following guar. He says guar is a soil builder but does not nodulate well. “We need at least minimal nitrogen fixation.”
Guar harvest may be challenging. “Timing is important, and delayed harvest could affect quality.” Even after a freeze, Trostle says, some guar plant leaves may remain green. “We’re looking at potential harvest aids to help get the crop out quickly to preserve quality.”
Crop specialists say the long-term drought that has damaged crop and livestock production in the Red River Basin for the last four years may have encouraged farmers to look at alternate crops, such as guar, canola and sesame. Those options may be a good fit on some farms, but producers still need to look at production costs, available resources, finance options for new enterprises and contract offerings before committing to a new endeavor.