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Sesame seed farming gains ground in Oklahoma. Photos by Mitch Steichen


Sesame Seed Farming bringsEAST to the WEST


By Mitch Steichen By Laura Araujo


Sesame seed plant


F


armers across Oklahoma and Texas are gearing up for sesame plant- ing season. If you think this sounds unusual, you are certainly not alone. The Braum’s bun topper is a relatively new phenomenon which has been gaining a foothold in the southwestern United


States for the last decade.


Traditionally, the raindrop-shaped seed has been planted in Asia, where the market is strongest. Of the almost 15 million acres of sesame harvested globally in 2011, 1 percent of them were located in the United States. Sesaco Corporation, a sesame seed company headquartered in Austin, Texas hopes to increase that acreage over the coming years. Because of its hardiness, the plant appears to be a good fit for Oklahoma. “Sesame is a native desert plant, accustomed to harsh conditions and a sandy environment,” Danny Peeper, Sesaco agronomist, said. “Our traditional plant- ing areas of Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas are continuing to diversify the grow- ing area and reduce the impact of the drought we’ve seen in recent years. Western and northwestern Oklahoma are areas we focus on, especially where there isn’t anything else growing in the summertime.”


No-Open Sesame


One of the biggest hurdles sesame had to overcome before it could attract the U.S. market is its labor-intensive harvest. According to Sesaco, 99 percent of the world’s sesame is harvested manually, or by hand, because of its ten- dency to shatter. At maturity, the seed pods dry and break open to scatter the seed, hence the phrase, “open sesame.” This makes it very difficult to harvest with machinery.


“About 20 years ago, sesame came to Oklahoma for a short time, but it was the shattering type, or dehiscent, sesame,” Peeper said. “It didn’t take off, so they gathered up and continued their plant breeding efforts. With a combined 60 years of breeding, they successfully found the gene that allowed for non- dehiscent sesame.”


26 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


This variety was introduced in 2000 and an improved variety came in 2008. Since that time, sesame found its way into growers’ rotations, despite the harsh drought conditions that continue to hit Oklahoma. Mark Cook, a farmer in Helena, Okla., and member of the Alfalfa Electric Cooperative, has planted sesame for the past five years.


“Our first year with sesame was a really good year,” Cook said. “Since then, it’s been abnormally dry, so it’s been really tough to see exactly how much it will produce. But in the past couple years it is the only crop that’s produced much of anything and I’d say it’s been a success in that regard.”


Crop Advantages


The improved varieties and drought tolerance are not the only advantages sesame provides to farmers in Oklahoma. Peeper said the crop is low risk, low input, disease and insect tolerant, and can work in lower productivity soils. “Some crops require you to invest a lot of money in new equipment,” Peeper said. “Sesame is not like that. Growers can produce it with whatever they’ve got and because of its value it will compete well with other crops. They don’t have to sacrifice profit margin to try a new rotation.”


Cook said some of the advantages sesame provides him are low production costs since it does not require unique equipment or much fertilizer, and that it works well in no-till ground. He added that contracting gives producers a helping hand when it comes to trying something new.


“One of the big advantages we’ve had is being able to contract for next year’s production,” Cook said. “We get an acre contract, which allows us to lock in a price, sell what we produce, and not have to deliver a certain amount in case of disaster or severe drought.”


Obtaining seed for the sesame market and its products occurs through rela- tionships built between growers and the seed companies. These contracts and agreements help to lay the pipeline from producer to end user. “Wherever we have a pocket of producers, we’ll establish a receiver in the


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