LUBBOCK — Alternative crops like sunflowers and sesame experienced a mixed year amid variable market conditions for the commodities that produce everything from oils to food products to viscosity enhancers used for oil well drilling.

Dr. Calvin Trostle, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist, Lubbock, said Texas producers planted fewer acres of the alternative crops in 2019 due to a variety of reasons from oversupply to the higher value of the U.S. dollar.

Sunflowers

This year, Texas sunflower growers planted up to 40,000 acres, primarily in the High Plains, with about 8,000 acres in the Rio Grande Valley, Trostle said. Up to 30,000 of those acres were planted as oilseed, while a significant portion of acres were planted as bird feed.

Trostle said acres in South Texas have already been harvested, and good yields were reported. Sunflowers are planted later in the High Plains with harvests usually in October and November because they are cold hardy, tolerating temperatures as low as 28 degrees for a few hours.

Sunflowers are processed as birdseed or mixed with various millet and sorghum varieties to create a colorful blend that consumers and birds find appealing, Trostle said.

Trostle said the market for Texas confectionary sunflowers, those purchased to consume as a snack, had slowed due to record yields in the Dakotas and the strength of the U.S. dollar, which makes crops produced here more expensive overseas.

But there were almost 10,000 acres of confectionary sunflowers grown on contract, compared to zero acres in 2017 and 2018, he added.

“There are less (acres) than normal,” he said. “Oversupply has hurt prices and demand for planted acres.”

Sesame

Trostle said sesame, which is primarily used for food such as on hamburger buns, is having a better 2019 at market in comparison to last year. He said at least 50,000 acres were planted in Texas. Around 98% of the U.S. sesame crop is grown in Texas and southern Oklahoma.

A major contract buyer of sesame has continued to expand its operations over the past several years, he said. Texas producers have a technological advantage over producers around the globe via mechanical harvesting equipment to separate the seed from the pod with little yield loss.

“A lot of sesame is still hand-harvested globally due to dropped seed,” he said.

Guar

Guar experienced another tough year at market, he said. Low prices have continued since the market ballooned in 2013. Trostle said about 20,000 acres were planted this season.

“Import prices were below market and made it difficult,” he said. “Guar is used in food and cosmetics, but a lot of it is used in the oilfield, where they are just looking for the cheapest commodity price.”

Cowpeas

Trostle said one alternative crop – cowpeas, including black-eyed and purple-hull peas – has always been a good rotation option, and experienced a good market in 2019.

The nitrogen-fixing associated with legumes is good for soil health and can help future row crops like cotton, he said. They are typically planted in the first half of July, and he estimated around 25,000 acres of peas were planted in the High Plains alone.

“Anytime is a good time to add legumes like cowpeas to a crop rotation,” he said. “Black-eyed peas, purple-hull peas and beans could be a good option because there are a lot of individual buyers, plus there’s canning and sale for dried peas.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

Central

Cooler temperatures were good for beef and dairy producers. Dry conditions were now the norm. Hot, dry conditions were drying rangelands and pastures. Some producers reported declining grass conditions while others reported good grazing and hay conditions. Peanuts and cotton were looking good. Corn acres for silage were mostly cut. Irrigation pivots were running. Fly numbers increased on cattle. Livestock were in good condition. Producers were busy cutting and putting up hay. A small chance of showers was in the forecast. Most counties reported good soil moisture.

Rolling Plains

Conditions were cooler, dry and windy. Hay baling remained active in grass and sorghum, and Sudan varieties were being cut as well. Cotton fields were in fair to good condition. Rangeland and pastures were starting to show stress from the dry weather.

Coastal Bend

Hot and dry weather was good for harvesting, but dry winds were rapidly decreasing the soil moisture. Grain sorghum harvest continued. Corn harvest began. Above-average yields were reported in corn and grain. Cotton bolls were opening, and many fields were already dropping leaves. Cotton harvest was picking up. Pastures and hayfields needed a good rain to stimulate fresh growth, but most pastures still had ample forage. Hay baling slowed, but there was a lot of hay harvested. Livestock were doing well.

East

A few areas received rain showers. Temperatures were cooler. Pastures were still green, but many areas were drying up. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to excellent. Producers continued to bale hay. Pond and creek levels dropped. Subsoil and topsoil conditions remained adequate. Cattle were in good condition. Wild pig control was underway. Armyworms, grasshoppers and Bermuda grass stem maggots were reported.

South Plains

Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were drying out fast due to the heat. All counties needed rain. Cotton was squaring, and some plants were starting to bloom. Grasshoppers and green stink bugs were the only pest of consequences. Producers were finishing up fertilizer and spraying. Producers were also continuing to irrigate with no recent rainfall. Pasture and rangeland were reported to be in good condition.

Panhandle

Conditions were still hot and dry across the district. Adequate topsoil and subsoil moisture levels were reported in the northern portion of the district, while other parts were reporting poor rangeland conditions due to lack of moisture. Crops and pastures were suffering from the heat and needed rain. Due to wet weather earlier this spring, the corn and cotton were late across much of the region. Much of the cotton was in fair to poor condition, while most of sorghum was in fair condition.

North

Soil moisture was short to adequate across the district. Conditions continued to be hot and dry. Soil was cracking, and plants were showing moisture stress in the afternoon.

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