Evaluation of Sesame Production Within Craven County, North Carolina

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With limited, if any, sesame production along the coastal region of North Carolina, a grower examining potential sesame production may be uncertain as to whether the extremely humid climate, high population of insects, increased disease probability, and frequent occurrence of tropical storm systems will afford the opportunity to incorporate this crop into their production systems. As such, in 2023, Sesaco Seed Company provided seeds for N.C. Cooperative Extension, Craven County Center to evaluate potential production along the coastal area of North Carolina.

Small sesame plants emerging from soil

Sesame seedlings planted into narrow rows

Cold temperatures and soils resulted in later than normal planting. May and June were simply much colder than normal. However, two differing plots were planted, one in late June planted with a centipede turf seeder into a well, drained Norfolk soil and the other site was broadcast in early July into a poorly drained, Rains soil. Both growers examining sesame production considered sesame as rotational crop that deer do not eat that will also reduce root knot nematodes as favorable aspects. Both sites fertilized by spreading blended materials providing roughly 80-110 lb./ac of nitrogen, 20-30 lbs./ac phosphorus and 60-80 lbs./ac of potassium.

The site planted with the centipede seeder was planted about ¼ – ½ inch deep but was irrigated with approximately 0.2 inches of water about every other day until emergence. Emergence was near 100%. At the second site, seeds were broadcast and disked into the soil at a depth of about an one and a half inches deep. No irrigation was provided at this site but, fortunately, there was one large rainfall (~1 inch) within one day of planting. Even so, emergence was only about 30% at this site. The poor emergence is most likely a result of poor distribution of seeds.

Field of sesame at showing peak bloom

Sesame at peak bloom

Plants grew rapidly but weeds grew faster! Grass weeds were easily controlled but a variance of other broadleaf weeds seem to remain about the same height of the sesame until about three weeks after sesame emergence. After this point, sesame outgrew weed competition. Sedges and small weeds persisted throughout the season but did not appear to negatively impact yield. Having thusly stated, neither site had severe problems of weeds such as morningglory, cocklebur or other potentially large, fast growing plants.

No major insect or disease was discovered at either site. In fact, perhaps the most damage resulted from the remnants of Hurricane Emily as it traveled through the area. This caused only some slight lodging of plants. Having thusly stated, as pods began to mature, frequent, small rainfall seemed to keep pods ideally suited to harbor fungal diseases. As such, between slight disease infection and onset of colder weather, yield was probably impacted slightly lower.

Sesame plants nearing harvest

Sesame nearing harvest with open pods

Neither field was harvested with equipment. Rather 10 areas of 1.0 square foot were harvested, weighed and shelled. Weights of shelled seeds were measured in grams. Assumptions were made to adjust for 10% moisture for yield and extrapolated to pounds per acre. This may not be the best means to examine yield, but given the lack of available equipment for harvest (Okay, such equipment is in the area but it was busy harvesting corn and soybeans!), it seemed a sufficient way to examine yield potential.

Yield ranged from a low of 949 lbs./ac to a high of 4108 lbs./ac with an average of 1927 lbs./ac. This harvest method captured 100% of the seeds and growers are very likely to experience some harvest loss. Assuming a 20% loss, this equates to about 1550 lbs./ac. This yield is similar to yield reported within NC State trials. Again, this method is only a reasonable estimate but it is indeed similar to existing data, especially the data from the site nearest to us at the  Vernon James Plymouth Research Station, Plymouth, NC.

Anticipated profit is a bit more difficult to provide since no seeds produced were graded or examined for oil content. Too, prices will fluctuate. If we assume an enterprise budget similar to soybean production for 2023 with a total cost of $562/acre and the average yield of 1550 lbs./ac, then selling at $0.30 or below will result in a loss. Selling at $0.40 will result in $58/ac and selling at $0.60 lb./ac will provide $360/ac. So, all but the lower price is profitable.

In summary, sesame was planted later than desired and experienced an extremely hot, dry summer yet provided adequate yield to provide profit at current market prices. No disease or insects caused any concern. In fact, even though we had winds in excess of 40 mph, yield was favorable. Probably the most yield reducing factor was the later than desired planting date. Should we have planted earlier, we would have had greater pod maturity at the time of evaluation. As such, for those seeking an alternative crop for rotation that deer do not eat, will reduce root knot nematode, and provide profit, consider sesame.

Sesame with large pods maturing

Sesame pod development

Sesame plant with small pod developing

Sesame at bloom