The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 22, 2013

Open sesame: Enid man helps spread word

Staff and wire reports
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — An Enid man is helping farmers in the Arkansas Delta region with a new crop option.

Sesame acreage in the southeastern United States has grown dramatically in a year, from about 2,500 in 2012 to about 60,000 this year, said farmer David Hodges, who has planted 300 to 400 acres of sesame this year. Hodges estimated about a quarter of those 60,000 acres are in the Arkansas Delta.

Hodges is working on his first sesame crop with Danny Peeper, an agronomist and commercial production manager with Sesaco.

Peeper, who has an office in Enid and lives here, has been flying back and forth from Oklahoma to help Arkansas farmers get their crops planted.

“It looks like a good fit for Arkansas,” Peeper said.

In the past, Sesaco only focused on Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, but because of the last couple of years of extreme drought, the company has broadened its horizons into the east, Peeper said.

Arkansas looks to have “a fantastic crop” this year, he said. In Arkansas, there were about 100 acres of sesame last year, and that has grown to 20,000 this year, Peeper said.

Sesame has a production cost of $70 to $80 an acre, compared to $500 or more per acre of rice. Hodges said the low cost is partly because it only requires about 60 units of nitrogen fertilizer, and it has no known natural predator in Arkansas.

“Apparently it has a bitter taste, because deer and other animals won’t touch it like they will soybeans,” Hodges said. “Some guys have figured out it’s good for areas near wildlife refuges and forests.”

“It could be a good alternative for a double crop or rotational crop, and could easily go behind wheat, since it has such a late planting window,” Peeper said.

Sesame likes hot, dry weather, so planting should start around mid-May and can continue until around Independence Day.

“The more 100-degree days, the better,” Peeper said.

It can be planted in wide or narrow rows, or it can be drilled in the same fashion as soybeans. Emergence happens at two to three days, and the gestation period lasts 110 to 120 days.

The plant is slow-growing the first 30 days, with two to six capsule-shaped seeds per day. At the end of the gestation period the plant can be six feet tall and have seeds starting at a foot and a half off the ground. The taproot can be 10 feet deep, giving the plant access to nutrients and water that other plants can’t get to; Peeper said it takes a third less water than sorghum, and nematodes don’t bother it like they would other plants with roots that long.

“They say wind isn’t a problem either,” Hodges added. “They grow it in Texas where they’ve had hurricane winds that didn’t affect it.”

Sesame harvest is generally in September or October.

Sesame is used for sesame oil, sesame crackers, sesame seed buns and tahini, which is a substitute for peanut butter — or can be added to peanut butter to boost the nutritional value and lower the cost. Northern states also prepare sesame bread, sesame sticks and cookies with sesame.

“There’s a lot of new product possibilities. We’re just touching the surface,” Peeper said. “The supply doesn’t meet the demand at this point.”

Sesaco officials say they have bred the only non-shattering variety of sesame in the United States. That means farmers can harvest the sesame with a draper or flex header that also is used for harvesting soybeans, “which is one of the beauties of it,” Hodges said. Before the new variety was bred farmers would have to swath the sesame before harvesting it.

Harvests can yield about 1,000 pounds per acre in non-irrigated areas, and irrigated areas can yield 1,500 pounds or more per acre. A bushel weighs 45 pounds like rice.

The market this year started out at 42 cents per pound, and most acres in the Arkansas Delta were booked at that price.

“We sell 50 percent export and 50 percent domestic,” Peeper said. “We don’t lose many farmers once they’ve tried to grow sesame. It’s a farmer-friendly crop with low cost.”

Sesaco hopes to increase sesame acres in the southeastern United States to 300,000 or 500,000 next year, and officials are working on new varieties for the region.

Peeper said the prospects for the crop are looking up in Oklahoma this year. The last couple of years, there wasn’t enough moisture to get it planted. This year, though, has seen “pretty good conditions.” He estimated about 30,000 acres have been planted in sesame north of Interstate 40.

“It’s been a good year so far,” Peeper said.