WINDOM — Randy Ellwood grows wheat, soybeans and corn, but he wanted to find something else to plant as elevators are filled overflowing with those crops.
"I take my hat off to the guys that are doing different things," Ellwood said. "I wanted to try something new. I'm trying to find a way around all the piles we've got on the ground."
When Ellwood heard about a new variety of sesame, he took a chance on the crop.
"I literally had never seen a plant in my life, and I planted 73 acres of it," Ellwood said.
Brian Fuller, Ellwood's employee and "trusted advisor" explained that sesame seeds grow in pods that split open when touched — which brings a new meaning to the phrase “open sesame.”
Because of the delicate nature of the pods, most sesame is harvested by hand. Looking to meet the massive demand for sesame, agricultural company Sesaco bred a non-dehiscent variety.
“Sesaco went to work and developed a pod that would not open up so that it could be harvested by machine,” Ellwood said.
Most farmers who contract with Sesaco are in Oklahoma and Texas, where weather conditions are favorable.
“It’s a very drought-tolerant crop that does well in drier weather,” Ellwood said.
Ellwood planted sesame at the beginning of June, when the soil temperature reached 70 degrees.
“It just puts a taproot down, which is great for no-till situations,” Ellwood said. “It mines the soil pretty good.”
The seed costs around $10 per acre and Ellwood applied a few herbicides to his field.
“It’s a low-input crop. It only takes 40 to 50 units of nitrogen to grow, where milo would take probably about 100 units,” Ellwood said.
The sesame seeds grow in a stack in the pods, like a sleeve of packaged crackers, and can be used as a condiment or turned into sesame oil or tahini paste, which is a main ingredient for hummus.
“Sesame has been around a long time,” Ellwood said. “It’s a high-protein food.”
Ellwood expects 32 cents a pound for the sesame.
“An average crop is 700 pounds an acre,” Ellwood said. “I didn’t go very far and I got more than I expected at the bin.”
Sesame is harvested after the first fall freeze when it reaches a moisture content of less than seven percent.
“I was a little worried about harvesting,” Ellwood said. “I was worried that it was tall enough that it wasn’t going to feed into the combine and I was worried that we would have a bunch of shatter with the header.”
After making adjustments to the header, Ellwood found he was able to prevent those issues.
“It’s been a really interesting crop. You don’t have to do a whole lot to your combine other than knowing a few things on how to set it,” Ellwood said.
Ellwood will take his harvest to an elevator in Kremlin, Oklahoma. From there, it is shipped to Hobart, Oklahoma, where the sesame is cleaned, bagged and shipped to be processed. Most sesame is processed in Japan.
Ellwood is excited about the possibilities of growing sesame, especially with such high global demand.
“They’re a long way from overproducing sesame,” Ellwood said.
Ellwood will grow sesame again next year, rotating the crop to a different field to keep bugs from discovering it.
“I’m going to try it again,” Ellwood said. “I want to give it a fair chance and see if it’s something the farmers can use.”
The sesame field, which is located east of Windom along Highway 56, sparked curiosity from people driving by.
“A lot of people ask me about it,” Ellwood said.
“Several people wondered if he just had a field of weeds out there,” Fuller said.
Ellwood hopes the demand for sesame will make it a viable option for Kansas farmers.
“This could help some guys, financially, get through some tough times,” Ellwood said.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel