Arkansas sesame starting to take some peanut acreage
Sesame – those tiny seeds probably most familiar as a topping for hamburger buns – is catching the attention of some northeast Arkansas farmers, thanks to a push by a Texas company that is looking to help make up for production shortfalls in the drought-plagued West.
Sesaco Corp. of Austin, which claims the only breeding program for sesame in the United States, is contracting with farmers in Arkansas and other states to plant the crop, and approximately 15,000 acres are under cultivation this year.
“Traditionally we’ve been west of Interstate 35 – western Oklahoma, western Texas, up to about Wichita, Kan. – and we thought that was diversity,” said Danny Peeper, commercial production manager for Sesaco. “But when you have a drought that covers that entire area, that’s not diversified enough.”
Peeper said Sesaco has been breeding sesame for about 65 years and in 2000 made a breakthrough that helped address the crop’s major drawback: Brittle seed pods.
“In the old days, if you had a bad storm you’d lose 80 percent of your crop in the first hour,” he said. “Now the sesame can sit in the fields three months after it’s ripe and you’ll lose 5 percent.”
The ability to harvest with a combine was one of the things that attracted David Hodges, a Jonesboro farmer who has about 475 acres of sesame under cultivation this year.
“Like rapeseed and some other crops, it had to be cut in swaths and then you come back and pick up the windrow and harvest later, after it dried,” said Hodges. “They [Sesaco] came up with a variety that did not shatter. That kind of makes it more practical to grow it conventionally, harvesting with a combine with a normal-type header.”
Sesame fits Arkansas farming style
As a crop, sesame has a lot to recommend it to the Natural State’s farmers: It doesn’t need a lot of water or fertilizer, it has no natural pests in Arkansas, and it can thrive in marginal soil. Plus there’s a long planting season, from early May to mid-July.
Derek Boling of Paragould was one of the pioneers who planted 140 acres of sesame in 2012, the first year it was cultivated in Arkansas. This year he has 400 acres planted.
“I planted it on some ground typically we just plant wheat on; it’s so sandy, we don’t ever plant anything behind it,” said Boling. “We made 800 pounds of sesame per acre. That kind of got me excited about it.”