The market is waiting. The demand is raging. Grow sesame and the buyers will come.

It’s hard to argue for a hardier crop than sesame. With a 7,500-year history of success in the parched soils of Africa and the Middle East, sesame is a low-input, drought-tolerant crop — and Delta farmers are taking notice.

Sesame has been grown for roughly 20 years in the United States, mainly in Oklahoma and Texas. But 2013 is the first year to see substantial acreage in Arkansas and Mississippi — approximately 25,000 acres.

Ellington and Turner Massey, Massey Planting Co., Rudyard, Miss., are heading toward harvest with 305 sesame acres, and the father-and-son pair believes they have found an excellent fit for their fields. “With sesame we’re talking about a really low-input crop,” says Ellington. “Seed, herbicide, fertilizer, harvesting; all costs excluding land-rent come to about $100 per acre.”

And with soybeans sometimes costing in the $350 per acre range; or cotton and corn often around $600 per acre; $100 per acre sesame can snap necks.

Sesame is a tiny seed, and like most smaller-sized seeds, needs warm soil to germinate. With a rough planting window of May 15 to June 4, sesame is a late-planted crop and needs a ground temperature of at least 70 degrees. It matures in 120 days, has strong shatter-resistance, and can stay in the field for three months waiting on a farmer to collect. The seeds are contained in pods and protected from weather. If a sesame crop is mature on Nov. 1, it can sit — unharvested — until January or February. Get conventional crops in first; get sesame last.


For photos of the Massey's sesame plantings, see Sesame spreading across farmland


“What got our attention was the fact that we could plant it after wheat because sesame matures in about 120 days. Planting after wheat still gives you plenty of time before you might catch a frost. Also, we didn’t have to buy any equipment. On sesame, we can use our conventional equipment for soybeans and corn to plant and harvest,” says Turner.

Traditionally, sesame is harvested by hand across the world — with a massive amount of seed and profit lost to shatter. Lack of efficient production is a major hole in global production, a gap that U.S. farmers can fill. New shatter-resistant varieties developed in the last seven years are arguably the key component driving the spread of sesame acreage in the U.S. Standard equipment is all that’s required for sesame harvest and the same combine can be used for corn, soybeans, wheat — and sesame.