Sesame Production Guide
Sesame oil is used as a salad or cooking oil and in shortening, margarine and soap. It is often considered the “queen” of vegetable oils. The outstanding characteristic of sesame oil is its stability and keeping quality as well as resistance to rancidity. Also, sesame oil is used in paints, soaps, cosmetics, perfumes and insecticides. Annually, over 8000 tons of sesame oil is imported into the United States. Whole seed condiments is the primary use of the sesame grown by producers in the United States. The largest use is on top of buns and in snack foods.
Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a broadleaf summer crop that belongs to the Pedaliaceae plant family which has bell-shaped flowers and opposite leaves.
Sesame is an erect annual plant that can reach 4 -7 feet in height when planted early under high moisture conditions. In West Texas, it is generally 3 – 6 feet.
Flowers appear about 38 – 45 days after planting with 2 flowers per stem per day for about 35 – 40. Some varieties have 6 flowers per stem per day for 25 – 40 days. Sesame is indeterminate in that it does not have a capsule on the last node. In some parts of the world, the plants will continue blooming until cut. However, sesame varieties grown in the United States will stop blooming based on its cycle. It is not dependent on a frost to stop flowering. The cycle is dependent on heat units and availability of moisture and fertility. Higher heat units will accelerate maturity. In dry weather or under low fertility the plants will stop blooming sooner.
Most capsules split open at maturity but the indehiscent capsule will not. Indehiscent, seamless, and shatter resistant lines will not have the seed drop out when the plant is inverted. There are approximately 50 to 80 seeds per capsule. With the first capsule located 1 to 2.5 feet from ground, depending on moisture, fertility, variety, and temperatures.
Sesaco has developed several varieties of shatter resistant sesame for direct harvest. Shattering varieties are used in countries where sesame is harvested manually. In the United States, shattering types are used to attract wildlife, particularly doves, quail, and pheasants.
It is highly drought resistant and grows best in areas where cotton does well. It will grow in all parts of Texas, but frost may injure it on the North Plains (when planted late). Sesame is a very leafy plant that terminates and self-defoliates without a frost.
Sesame ranks sixth in the world production of edible oil seeds–3,312,986 million tons, see Table 1. Sesame ranks twelveth in world vegetable oil produced–907,440 million tons, see Table 2. (Latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for 2005 (http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=567).
Table 1: World production of edible oil seeds (2005)
|Oil Palm Fruit||172,840,720|
|Groundnuts in Shell||37,228,389|
|NOTE: Although Palm and coconuts are not strictly oil seeds, they are raised specifically for vegetable oil, and so some people put them in the same tables as oilseeds. Note that FAO still does not recognize the differentiation between rapeseed and canola.
Reference: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for 2005
Table 2. World production of vegetable oil (2005)
|Oil of Palm||34,363,946|
|Oil of Soya Beans||33,363,365|
|Oil of Rapeseed||14,142,430|
|Oil of Sunflower Seed||10,244,873|
|Oil of Groundnuts||5,483,050|
|Oil of Cotton Seed||4,362,875|
|Oil of Palm Kernels||4,016,969|
|Oil of Coconuts||3,265,829|
|Oil of Olive||2,565,305|
|Oil of Maize||2,028,814|
|Oil of Rice Bran||1,613,164|
|Oil of Sesame Seed||907,440|
|Oil of Linseed||672,670|
|Oil of Safflower||126,581|
|Oil of Mustard Seed||67,182|
|Reference: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for 2005
Specific Areas of Adaptation:
Sesame is adapted to fertile, well-drained soils and is not salt tolerant. Medium textured soils are most favorable. Sesame prefers neutral to slightly alkaline pH, with moderate fertility. Sesame does not like heavy clay soils or irrigation water containing high concentrations of salt.
Length of growing season
Because sesame is of tropical origin, it performs best in areas where temperatures remain high throughout the growing season of 110 to 150 frost-free days. Seed do not germinate well when soil temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and plant growth is retarded by cool temperatures even after the stand is established. Growth and fruiting are favored with average daily temperatures in the range of 86 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Early literature indicated that capsule set is usually poor during periods of extremely hot weather when maximum temperatures exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit. However, sesame was grown in Yuma Arizona between 1978 and 1992 where the night temperatures were above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and in years such as 1990 there were 21 days that temperatures exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit and no problems were encountered with capsule set in those high temperatures. The plant will shed blooms if it is stressed for moisture. If it has been stressed for moisture and is irrigated late, some varieties will shed blooms for several days.
Sesame leaves are killed by temperatures slightly above the freezing point. A hard freeze may impact green plants with a high moisture content. A hard freeze occurred in Kansas several years ago when the plants were still green and the seed moisture content was high. The seed harvested from these green plants after the hard freeze appeared correct in shape and color, but in subsequent weeks the seed became rancid. What type of hard freeze causes the problem is still needing answered. Is it the length of the hard freeze, or the temperature, or both? Sesaco has not had any experience with hard freezes on green sesame, but have had a lot of experience with hard freezes on dry sesame. Dry sesame harvested after a hard freeze has not had any problems with germination or rancidity. One experiment conducted by Sesaco showed no reduction in sesame seed germination when planting seeds were placed in a freezer for seven days.
Sesame varieties grown commercially require 90 to 110 days from planting to reach physiological maturity. The upper limit is for areas where there are lower heat units accumulated during the growing season such as the areas north of Lubbock. Another 20 to 40 days are needed to allow the plant to dry down for harvest. A good rule of thumb is not to plant until at least a month after the last killing frost in the spring. However, soil temperature is a better indicator of when to plant. For good germination plant after the soil temperature at the eight inch depth at 8:00 a.m. averages 68 degrees Fahrenheit for ten days.
As indicated above, approximately five frost-free months are needed for sesame production. Once the plant reaches physiological maturity, a frost will not hurt it, and it will actually help it in that the plants will go to drydown quicker. Most of the sesame on the High Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas is not dry before the first frost. The only caveat is that light frosts kill some plants and not others which delays harvest. Late plantings mature in less time than early plantings, however, 95 days prior to 45 degree nights and 110 days prior to frost is needed to make full yield.
Shattering varieties (i.e. Blanco, Cal Beauty, Eva, Dulce, Llano, Margo, Oro, and UCR3) are found primarily in research nurseries. The shattering varieties have seed capsules that pop open when dry and allow most of the seed to be lost due to shattering.
Shatter resistant varieties were developed for mechanical harvest, of these SESACO 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 – have been phased out and replaced with improved varieties of SESACO 25, 26, 28 and 29. These improved shatter resistant varieties have capsules that opens slightly at maturity but do not lose much of the seed prior to harvest. The SESACO 29 variety will be the primary variety planted in 2007.
NOTE: Shatter resistant and non-shattering are not synonymous terms. Kinman used non-shattering sesame for the homozygous indehiscent gene discovered by Derald G. Langham in 1943. Another type of closed sesame was discovered by Derald G. Langham and D. Ray Langham in 1986 and is homozygous for the seamless gene. The two types of non-shattering genes prevent the capsule from opening at drydown. In the later years, modifier genes were added that allowed these capsules to open slightly. The indehiscent and seamless genes were abandoned for commercial sesame because even with the slight capsule opening, it was too difficult to get the seed out in the combine without extensive damage.
Sesame produces about one-third as much seed as sorghum under ideal conditions; however, it produces more than one-third as much as sorghum under poor growing conditions. Another method of estimating sesame yields before planting is based on the fact that sesame produces approximately the same number of pounds of seed as cotton. For instance, if cotton makes a bale per acre (1,350 pounds of lint and seed per acre), sesame would make about 825 pounds of seed per acre under the same conditions. From 1998 to 2001, sesame yields ranged from 300 to 1,200 pounds per acre in dryland acreage and 800 to 1,700 pounds per acre in semi-irrigated / irrigated production. Some commercial field in Arizona had yields as high as 2500 pounds per acre. Production problems that resulted in poor plant stands impacted yields with some acreage yielding as low as 100 to 150 pounds per acre.
Key Production Requirements:
Sesame requires a warm, moist, mellow, weed-free seedbed. Raised beds are preferred to allow for good soil moisture while providing a method of keeping the moisture off of the stems. Generally, the seedbed preparation used for cotton is satisfactory for sesame. Because sesame is a late-planted crop, one or more crops of weeds can be killed by shallow cultivation before planting.
Sesame seeds need to be planted into good moisture and covered shallow. However, very limited success have occurred from watering up (furrow irrigation or pivot).
A row spacing of 27 to 40 inches has shown to be adequate for sesame production. Seldom is a drill used in Texas for planting purposes because of difficulty in getting a stand and having enough moisture. In Oklahoma where producers are using modern drills with depth bands, thousands of acres have been successfully planted. Problems with marginal moisture and drills without depth control are still a concern. To get the desired distance between drill rows the farmers will need to plug off portions of the planting unit.
Planting is the most critical aspect of growing sesame. A farmer can do nothing to improve yield on poor stands except replant.
In dryland production it is highly recommended that 15 to 50 gallons of water per acre be placed in the seed line to help insure uniform emergence in irregular soils. If soil moisture is high, the gallons of water per acre in the seed line has been successfully lowered to 10 gallons of water per acre.
A sesame seed is small and has less energy for emergence than a larger seeded crop. The sesame seed is planted from 0.75 to 1.5 inches deep. The seed will need to remain in moist soil for 3 to 5 days. The planting depth and soil compaction should be kept at a minimum.
A planting rate of 3 pounds per acre (25-35 seeds per foot) is recommended for sesame planted on a 40 inch row spacing.
The planting rate should be increased if the seeds are planted deep, soil moisture is limited, soil temperature is cool, or the soil is compacted, cloddy, or trashy.
The planting rate should be reduced if seed bed are well prepared and have adequate soil moisture.
Do not plant until all danger of cool weather is past. Planting dates may be as early as March 15 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and as late as early June in the Panhandle. In general, Sesame is planted 2 to 3 weeks later than cotton or grain sorghum. In areas with long growing seasons and adequate summer rainfall or irrigation water, plant sesame in June or July. August or early September plantings have been successful in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
A good rule of thumb is not to plant until at least a month after the last killing frost in the spring. However, soil temperature is a better indicator of when to plant. For good germination plant after the soil temperature at the eight inch depth at 8:00 a.m. averages 68 degrees Fahrenheit for ten days.
Sesame is small seeded and can be drilled or row planted. Planters adapted for vegetable seeds may work best while small grain planters must be adapted for low planting rates. Stand establishment is sensitive and a good firm moist seedbed is best.
Sesame varieties grown commercially require 90 to 110 days from planting to reach physiological maturity. The upper limit is for areas where there are lower heat units accumulated during the growing season such as the areas north of Lubbock. Another 20 to 40 days are needed to allow the plant to dry down for harvest.
Approximately five frost-free months are needed for sesame production. Once the plant reaches physiological maturity, a frost will not hurt it, and it will actually help it to drydown quicker. Most of the sesame on the High Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas is not dry before the first frost. The only caveat is that light frosts kill some plants and not others which delays harvest. Late plantings mature in less time than early plantings, however, 95 days prior to 45 degree nights and 110 days prior to frost is needed to make full yield.
With certain adjustments, adapt available farm machinery to planting and cultivating sesame. The major adjustment necessary is in the planter box. Sesame seed are small and easily crushed, clogging the planter plates. Do not fill planter boxes above 6 to 8 inches to avoid churning seed.
A cotton planter can be modified using low rate “dryland” milo plates/cups or raw sugar beet discs or drums for air planters. Cotton planter modifications include:
- International 186: Plate C-Sorg 00-30, Ring CFR- 1
- International 386: Plate C-Sorg 00-30, Ring CFR-1
- John Deere 71 Flex: Plate B-Sorg 00-30, Ring BFR-1
- John Deere 800: Plate B-Sorg 00-30, Ring BFR-1
- John Deere 80: JD Cups and shim set “Dryland sorghum” JD part #B31298 Feed cup spacer, B31205 32 Cell Feed Cup, B31300 Thrust Washer
- John Deere Max-emerge: A25081 Shim, A36323 Plate, and AA253 19 bowl AA25319 set. One set per row.
- JD Max-emerge II vacuum planter: using either a 45 cell H136445 “Raw sugar beet disc” or 45 cell A43066 “Small milo disc” Also need “Knocker Assembly” #AH129125 for each plate.
- IHC 800, 900 air planter: IHC part #1546936C1 “Small seed drum” (Must shrink vent holes by hammer blows.)
- NOTE: There have been mixed results with the IHC 800/900 air planter. It is difficult to plant enough seed per foot.
- NOTE: Plates can be ordered from Lincoln AG-Products Company, Lincoln, Nebraska at (402) 464-6367. Cups and discs should be available at your local John Deere Dealer.
Always plant pure seed of the same variety and type. Mixing varieties results in stands of uneven height, maturity and seed quality. Your contractor should assist in variety selection on your farm.
Production in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s was hampered by excessive shatter problems, however, the shatter resistant types of sesame available to producers today greatly reduce these losses. Disease and insect problems appear minimal and the relatively dry summer weather makes sesame production possible.
Sesame grows slowly at first and does not compete well with weeds. Cultivate sesame to control weeds before rapid growth begins at 4 to 5 weeks after emergence (seedling height about 3 to 4 inches). Early cultivation causes seedlings to grow faster, possibly because of improved soil aeration. If the soil becomes compacted by excessive rain, cultivation may be needed to aerate the soil. Sesame plant color change from yellowish to green has been noted by several producers after plowing compacted soils; some indicated that color change was visible within six hours.
Sesame is highly drought resistant. Areas with adequate rainfall for the production of dryland sorghum or cotton usually have enough moisture for sesame production. Highest yields of sesame reported in the United States have been from experiments grown with irrigation in desert areas. Sesame uses approximately 50 percent less water than cotton, 66 percent less water than grain sorghum and 75 percent less water than corn. Researchers have found sesame reduces nematode populations.
Problems caused by volunteer sesame in cotton produced the next season has been minimized when producers planted Roundup Ready cotton and applied the herbicide in a timely fashion. Volunteer sesame has not been a problem in corn, sorghum, or wheat.
Lift off packer wheels from planting line or put as little pressure on as possible. Sesame seeds are too weak to break through much crust–even a light one. Scratching sometimes helps if timing is right. Most of the time with a crust, a replant is required.
Sesame is not a poor-land crop. Applying a balanced commercial fertilizer at planting time is required for satisfactory production on soils of low to moderate fertility. Fertilizer rates and ratios are similar to those recommended for cotton on the same soil. Sidedressing with a nitrogen-bearing fertilizer may be necessary when growing plants are unthrifty and light green in color.
Sesame will require approximately 40 to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre on irrigated production and 25 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre on dryland production, see Table 3. A large amount of the nitrogen is taken up by the plant during flowering and the crop responds well to foliar feeding. Apply phosphorus and potash according to soil test. High phosphorus levels in saline soils may decrease sesame yields. Present recommendations for nitrogen are:
Table 3. Nitrogen requirement of sesame based on available moisture.
|Rainfall and Irrigation
(inches of water received)
|Pounds of Nitrogen
needed per acre
|Dryland, under 28″ of rainfall in soil profile||25-35 units of N|
|Dryland, over 27″ of rainfall in soil profile||30-60 units of N|
|Full irrigation, 12 inches additional water applied to full soil profile||60-80 units of N|
|Semi-irrigation, 6 to 8 inches of additional water applied to full soil profile.||40-60 units of N|
Sesame is one of the most drought tolerant crops in the world and should do well in areas of 16 to 18 inches of annual precipitation. It will respond to irrigation if applied properly. It prefers fast, light irrigations (i.e., short runs or some slope).
Excessive moisture is not beneficial and extended periods of rainfall and/or high humidity may cause leaf diseases. Plants standing in water for more than a few hours may be killed.
Watering should be discontinued when flowering stops (70 – 80 days depending on variety).
If a dry period occurs prior to planting plan on heavy pre-irrigation. Then follow with the next irrigation 4 to 5 weeks later (watering up or watering back to help a poor stand seldom works). Two to three additional irrigation may be needed; application should be made every 7 to 12 days unless there is rain. When the plants show leaf droop by 2 PM, the sesame will benefit from an application of water in the next few days (dependent on soil texture).
Major insect pests and their control
Green peach aphid, (cotton aphid does not affect sesame), thrips, grasshoppers, cutworms, and white fly are the most common insects attacking sesame. When these insects are bad, plants may not set sufficient capsules. Grasshoppers generally do their damage to areas of the field adjacent to rangeland. See linked information on sesame from U.S.D.A. (http://cipm.ncsu.edu/cropprofiles/docs/ussesame.html).
Major disease pests and their control
Diseases do not cause much commercial damage on sesame, but they may increase when acreage increases. Bacterial leaf spot is most likely to cause trouble. Fusarium wilt can be a serious problem in South Texas on fields previously planted in sesame. The current sesame varieties have tolerance to Fusarium. Farmers have planted sesame on fields with serious cotton root rot problems and never seen the problem. However, there is a root rot (Phytophtora parasitica) that does attack sesame. Verticillium wilt also attacks sesame. See linked information on sesame from U.S.D.A. (http://cipm.ncsu.edu/cropprofiles/docs/ussesame.html).
Major weeds and their control
There are no herbicides or pesticides labeled for sesame.
Herbicides, such as trifluralin (Treflan), are commonly used and incorporated prior to planting. Rates of 0.75 ai/A, 0.50 ai/A and 0.35 ai/A are recommended for trifluralin on clay, silt and sandy-loam soils.
Shallow cultivation may be an acceptable method of weed control. Several shallow tillage operations kill early germinating weeds before planting, with between-the- row cultivation after emergence.
Keep fields as clean as possible of Johnsongrass, wild cucumber, sunflower, and ground cherry. These seed are difficult to clean out of sesame. Sesame delivered with these seed are subject to price discounts.
Sesame is very sensitive to herbicide bands in cool or wet weather. Sesame tolerates Dual, Fusilade, Poast, Select and some Prowl/Treflan. Sesame does not tolerate Atrazine, Caparol, Paraquat, Pursuit, Roundup, Cadre, and 2-4D. In some years sesame can follow Cadre in peanuts, but in dry years there has been carry-over effects on sesame.
There have been mixed results with wheat herbicides such as Amber, Gleen, Ally, Finesse, and Assert. Some farmers have planted after using these herbicides with results ranging from little effect to complete eradication of sesame.
Preparation for harvest
Harvest from September 15 to December 15, dependent on planting date, variety, and climate.
Sesame is ready for harvest when the stalk dries down where it will be cut. For best yields, sesame must be harvested as soon as the crop is ready. The present shatter resistance varieties of sesame will hold the seed through 6 weeks of rain. The current problem is not with the shattering but rather with the deterioration of the plant which may result in lodging.
Clean all harvest machinery and trucks for food crop.
The color of combine is not as important as the settings. Combine settings should allow for minimum seed damage. Since sesame seed is 50 percent oil, high broken seed reduces the grade. A slow cylinder speed with loose concaves are necessary for quality harvest. Check the combine bin often to determine the number of broken seed, a maximum of two broken seed per 100 is acceptable.
The rate of feeding, cylinder concave surface and speed, setting of the cleaning sieve and air blast must be in “balance” to do an efficient job of threshing without excessive seed damage.
Do not clean the seed completely with a combine, but run the seed through a processing machine for cleaning. It is easy to clean sesame seed and remove the trash with standard seed-cleaning equipment.
Most combines can do an excellent job when set up properly. Broadcast headers can work efficiently. Small grain concaves and sieves usually clean well enough for good seed grades. A 5/32″ punched hole bottom screen cleans better (alfalfa screens look like they will work in the shop, but do not work well over time – they will plug!). Do not use a punched hole screen unless screens are cleaned with each dump, or yield will decrease as the screens get clogged up.
“Screening in” the back of the platform saves additional seed while allowing operator visibility.
Modified air headers and some Lynch (Heston) attachments work. Generally maize and Brittain fingers do more harm than good.
For tall (6 foot or over) sesame or lodged crops a JD #50 series all crop header is recommended.
Protect seed from rain and dew in combine and trucks. Wet seed can heat up faster than most seed.
Oil content (when seed are pressed for oil) and seed condition are important in the sesame industry. Oil percentages of less than 50 percent are not acceptable. Most sesame varieties today yield 50 to 55 percent oil.
Some sesame varieties are grey or brown in color and a specialized sesame, black in color, is sold in Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar. The black seed coat color is important since the color can bleed into the seed and the dehulling process will not remove the color. Sortex machines are used to remove the dark seed prior to use.
Whole seed condiments is the primary use of the sesame grown by producers in the United States. The largest use is on top of buns and in snack foods.
Main Limitations to Adoption and Acceptance in District:
Lack of post harvest handling facilities
Until a regular marketing system for sesame seed develops, establish a definite market before planting. Marketing concerns interested in processing sesame seed may find it to their advantage to contract for a desired acreage before the planting season.
Currently, contract prices to growers is $27 per hundred weight (27 cents per pound). Premiums for high quality sesame are available and can earn producers an additional 1 to 4 cents per pound. Two buyers are known at this time: Sesaco, (Paris, TX (800) 527-1024) and Arrowhead Mills, Hereford, TX (806) 364-0730 (organic only).
Sesaco Representatives in Texas include:
* Ray Langham, 4308 Centergate, San Antonio, TX 78217 (210) 590-3352 or (800) S-E-S-A-C-O-zero
* Terry Wiemers, 4308 Centergate, San Antonio, TX 78217 (210) 590-3352 or (800) S-E-S-A-C-O-zero
I want to thank D. Ray Langham for reviewing the information contained and for his many useful suggestions.
Additional information on sesame is available from:
Sesame Production Information Posted January 29, 2007