Alternative crops can provide diversification to a farmer’s portfolio, particularly crops that can withstand the drought conditions Texas has experienced the past decade.
Travis Miller, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service agronomist, discussed alternative crops recently at the Texas Plant Protection Association Conference in Bryan.
One crop, guar, presents several opportunities for Texas farmers, he said. Guar is a drought-tolerant legume that grows well in West Texas. Guar is a key ingredient for hydraulic fracturing fluid used by the oil and gas industry.
“It takes a tremendous amount of guar, up to 80 acres, for one well completion,” Miller said. “With all of the increasing activity in hydraulic fracturing, we saw the price go from $1-$2 a pound at one time to around $12 a pound. It’s caused a considerable amount of budgeting for hydraulic fracturing activities among energy companies.”
Guar is used in hydraulic fracturing fluid to assist with opening up formations holding oil and gas. The method has been used to develop numerous wells in the Eagle Ford zone of South Texas and several other locations around the country.
“I think our drilling industry indicates the need for about a half a million acre crop in Texas,” Miller said. “It’s really a pretty cheap crop to produce.”
Miller said guar is a legume and has the potential to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Growers will need to factor in cost of seed, herbicide application and potentially a harvest aid when budgeting a crop.
“One concern is disease,” Miller said. “We have a lot of problems with weed control and we recommend growers select fields that are relatively weed free.”
Currently, there is only one buyer in West Texas, Miller said.
“If you plan to grow it, you need to have somebody buy it from you,” he said.
Miller added that guar is an important ingredient in ice cream and cosmetics, too.
“We all like to eat it, and we like to recover oil and gas with it as well.”
Castor was another alternative crop Miller discussed. He said demand has steadily increased due to industrial use. It is used for manufacturing various products such as specialty lubricants and plastics.
Castor was a popular crop in Texas up until the 1970s when demand decreased.
“India controls the market and there is opportunity here in the United States, especially in Texas, to capture some of this market share,” he said.
Before venturing into alternative crops, Miller said farmers must consider production and harvest logistics along with market risk, pest control and balancing with current crop acreage.