Castor is an alternative crop Texas farmers can consider as part of their portfolio, says Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist.
A drought-tolerant legume that grows well in West Texas – called guar – offers growers there market opportunities, says Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist. 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 says. “With all of the increasing activity in hydraulic fracturing, we saw the price go from $1-$2/lb at one time to around $12/lb. It’s caused a considerable amount of budgeting for hydraulic fracturing activities among energy companies.”
Guar is used in hydraulic fracturing fluid to help open up formations holding oil and gas. The method has been used to develop numerous wells in the Eagle Ford zone of South Texas.
“I think our drilling industry indicates the need for about a half a million acre crop in Texas,” Miller says. “It’s really a pretty cheap crop to produce.”
Guar has the potential to fix atmospheric nitrogen, so can save on fertilizer costs. But 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 says. “We have a lot of problems with weed control and we recommend growers select fields that are relatively weed-free.”
Currently, there’s only one buyer in West Texas, he adds. “If you plan to grow it, you need to have somebody buy it from you.”
Guar is also an important ingredient in ice cream and cosmetics.
Demand for another alternative crop, castor, 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,” Miller says. But there is opportunity in the U.S., especially in Texas, to capture some ofthe market share, he says.
Before venturing into alternative crops, Miller suggests that farmers consider production and harvest logistics, along with market risk, pest control and balancing with current crop acreage.