Texas AgriLife Extension Agronomist Says Interest In Alternative Crops Remains Steady

Sunflowers are one of several oilseed crops that have become popular alternatives for producers. This year, sunflower seed prices are lower due to an abundant supply following multiple years of record-breaking harvests. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Lubbock, TX (May 10, 2018) - Oilseed crops like sunflowers and canola are experiencing lower prices, but it appears overall interest in alternative crops remains steady, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Calvin Trostle, AgriLife Extension agronomist, Lubbock, said alternative crop options such as sunflowers, sesame, canola and guar remain minor crops, but their viability due to drought and heat tolerance may increase their popularity as market demands rise.

Trostle said there is a large oversupply of confectionary sunflower seeds, which are the edible snack seeds, due to high and even record-breaking national yields per acre the past few years. Oversupply has hurt prices and demand for planted acres this year.

“One commodity broker in Lubbock typically contracts up to 40,000 acres in the Texas High Plains, but they contracted none this year,” Trostle said. “Regional prices are lower, so this means acres will go elsewhere. Growers don’t plant sunflowers unless they’re under contract, because otherwise there are no assurances there will be anyone to buy their crop.”

Prices are fair at best for oilseed sunflower, and the Texas oilseed acreage is expected to be down to about 35,000 acres from 50,000 acres or more. Planted acres include up to 9,000 acres in the Lower Rio Grande Valley for export to Mexico and about 20,000 acres for bird seed production.

With sesame, current contract acreage is limited to one company, Trostle said. He is uncertain about sesame acreage, but said it appears Texas production could be in the range of 50,000 acres to as much as 100,000 acres. Trostle said there could be some increased export demand from Japan, which recently reduced import regulations on the crop.

A second company is conducting test plantings with new non-shattering varieties to evaluate possible expansion of sesame in West Texas in the near future, he said.

The northern Texas Rolling Plains has some winter canola production. But one canola limitation in the region is the planting window, which closes early in October when some producers have not harvested summer crops like cotton.

Canola offers a rotational crop option to wheat in fields with grassy weeds that would be a potential problem, Trostle said. But canola also requires more management than wheat. There is current interest in re-examining the spring canola potential on the lower Texas Gulf Coast, Trostle said. This area was a production region for spring canola through the 1980s.

Prices have fallen for another minor oilseed, guar, since the market ballooned in 2013, said Trostle.

Texas guar producers are expected to increase acreage by as much as 30 percent this season, he said. Guar prices continue to be low, but there is great interest in the heat and drought tolerant crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $1.2 million across four research grants focused on the crop or in conjunction with other minor crops.

“Guar prices tend to follow petroleum production because it is used in the drilling process,” he said. “There is a huge market for it when drilling is active, and there is interest in it as a food-grade emulsifier. Guar is drought and heat tolerant, so there’s plenty of areas in Texas where it could be a successful crop.”