Alternative Crops Give Growers Good Options

Alternative crops will not supplant top commodities such as corn and cotton, but producers choose them as drought-tolerant rotation options that can pay off when the price is right, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist in Lubbock.

Dr. Calvin Trostle said alternative crops such as sunflowers, sesame and guar also give producers, especially in the Rolling Plains and High Plains regions, viable options when it comes to replanting on a failed field. They can also be used for rotations for soil health, or enduring heat and drought conditions, as well as provide access to other markets when prices and industry demand.

In Central Texas, some sunflower fields are being harvested now, Trostle said. Good yields are being reported. One producer in Ellis County said sunflowers performed better than any other crop he planted this year, Trostle added.

Prices on sunflowers and other oilseeds have been better in the recent past, Trostle said. But sunflowers have a wide planting window, are drought tolerant and make good rotation crops for commodity crops like cotton.

“Producers seem to like them, but it comes down to how many contracts are there to be filled,” he said. “The price goes up and down based on the number of acres the industry needs.”

Trostle said guar, or cluster bean, a drought-tolerant legume, has become an option in West Texas cotton crop rotations. Guar is used to produce food emulsifiers and lubricants for oil and gas drilling and fracking.

Trostle said producers in West Texas and a few other areas are facing moderate drought and high temperatures, as well as a lack of precipitation that have been stressing dryland plants. Those conditions make sesame, sunflowers and other crops that can take heat and lack of moisture more appealing to producers.

The number of alternative crop acres planted goes up and down like most other crops from year to year, Trostle said. Under the right conditions it can be a good financial decision.

Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension statewide small grains and oilseed specialist in College Station, said canola performed well for producers despite heavy spring rains. Canola is a cool-season oilseed crop harvested before summer, similar to wheat.

Neely said more producers are becoming aware of the crop as an option to wheat, which has experienced dipping prices, Neely said. Canola follows the soybean market and prices were strong, around $6.50 per bushel currently, but peaked at over $8 per bushel at harvest time, compared to wheat, which stayed at or below $4 per bushel.

Canola prices generally peak at harvest time for the Southern Great Plains as the majority of North American canola is spring canola, which is harvested in late summer in North Dakota and Canada, Neely said. This gives winter canola grown in Texas a price advantage.

Neely and Trostle said interest in alternative crops fluctuates with prices on typical commodities such as cotton, corn and wheat.

“Anytime you see dips in the commodity prices, you’ll typically see more alternative crop acres planted,” Neely said.

Source: Texas AgriLife Extension

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