Alternative crops can provide diversification to a farmer’s portfolio, particularly crops that can withstand the drought conditions Texas has experienced the past decade. Dr. Travis Miller, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agronomist, discussed alternative crops recently at the Texas Plant Protection Association Conference in Bryan.
One crop, guar, presents several opportunities for farmers in western Oklahoma and northern Texas. Guar is an upright, coarse-growing summer annual legume known for its drought tolerance once established. It tolerates high temperatures and low moisture, and has an optimal performance range of 77 degrees to 95 degrees Fahrenheit within 10 to 40 inches of rainfall. Wet soils and humidity decrease plant performance and bean quality. Guar grows well under most soils, but prefers well-drained sandy-loams.
Guar has the potential to fix atmospheric nitrogen. It is an excellent soil-improving crop that fits well into crop rotations. Throughout the world, it has been in rotation with wheat, cotton and sorghum. Studies have shown that guar has the potential to add over 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre in a single growing season.
Guar is a key ingredient in hydraulic fracturing fluid used by the oil and gas industry. Hydraulic fracturing fluid assists with opening up formations holding oil and gas. The method has been used to develop numerous wells in the Eagle Ford zone of South Texas. “It takes a tremendous amount of guar, up to 80 acres, for one well completion,” Miller said. “With all of the increasing activity in hydraulic fracturing, we saw the price go from $1 to $2 a pound at one time to around $12 a pound.”
This price increase has significantly increased the cost of natural gas exploration, leading petroleum companies to explore regional production opportunities for guar and potentially creating new revenue sources for farmers.
Early in 2012, the supply of guar gum, the product processed from guar seeds, was stretched due to the expansion of natural gas exploration through the hydraulic fracturing process. According to Miller, the drilling industry indicates the need for about a half a million acre crop in Texas.
Miller says guar is a fairly cheap crop to produce. As with any crop, growers will need to factor in cost of seed, herbicide application and potentially a harvest aid when budgeting.
Disease is the main concern with guar. Because of the problems associated with weed problems, growers are recommended to select fields that are relatively weed free.
While there are risks and challenges associated with producing guar, the potential exists for farmers to realize production advantages associated with a crop rotation using a nitrogen-fixing plant that produces a product (guar gum) that will be in demand by the oil and gas industry in the foreseeable future.
For more information about this topic, contact the A&M AgriLife Extension office, Clay County at (940) 538-5042.