Sunflowers and sesame experienced a decent 2022 with good market prices, but interest in alternative crops dipped slightly as more producers chose to plant major commodities, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

High commodity prices for crops like corn, sorghum and cotton and historically high input costs led to fewer acres of alternative crops like sesame, sunflowers and black-eyed peas, said Calvin Trostle, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock.

Sunflowers and sesame are more drought tolerant than corn and comparable to cotton, he said, but that consideration would not have mattered for dryland growers this year. 

Trostle said the drought-related risks for both dryland and irrigated fields and planting history likely played into producers’ evaluation when crop insurance was also considered. Crop insurance based on good per-acre yield history for sunflowers or sesame in a location, when compared to the county average, could be a major consideration when fertilizer, fuel and other inputs are so high. 

Alternative crops like sunflowers, sesame and even cowpeas, which are a good rotational nitrogen-fixing legume, continue to stay relevant for producers, while others like guar, utilized as an emulsifier by the oil and gas industry, has disappeared from production, Trostle said.

“There are dynamics at play that make these alternative crops an option, but sunflowers were clawing for acres compared to cotton and other major Texas crops,” he said. “And with the drought and high input costs, I think farmers went with crops they are used to growing, that are routine for them.”

Texas sunflowers and sesame

In the past, most Texas sunflowers were grown for confectionery purposes as seed snacks for consumers, Trostle said. But much of the confectionery demand is being met by growers in the Dakotas who have more efficient access to processing.

Today, most of Texas’ sunflowers and sesame are grown as an oilseed and for bird seed, he said.

Trostle said the Lower Rio Grande Valley was the hotspot for oilseed crops like sunflowers and sesame this season. Growers in several counties planted around 25,000 acres of sunflowers and 17,000 acres of sesame, according to Vidal Saenz, AgriLife Extension agent, Hidalgo County.

Around 20,000 acres of sunflowers were planted in the South Plains for bird seed and another 5,000 acres in the northwestern Panhandle for oilseed crushing, Trostle said. Sunflowers made a small comeback in Central Texas, with around 3,500 acres grown near Hillsboro and Waxahachie.

Trostle said there are now three active sesame contractors in Texas. Equinom, a seed company based in Israel, has been contracting sesame acres. Sesajal, mostly in Mexico, makes tahini, a sesame-based hummus-like product. These join long-time contract sesame buyer Sesaco.

“These additions are big for those crops because they represent processing,” he said. “It’s more than just the oilseed because there are value-added steps to producing commercial products right here in Texas. That is a good thing for growers.”

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