The thousands of acres that should be populated in the Coastal Bend with the crop that was at one time in our history called "white gold" are now bare and were "zeroed out" by crop insurance adjusters. Now there are two big questions being asked, when will we finally get some measurable rain, and after it does start raining again, what will be done with those bare soils?

Keep in mind that a wise alternative crop choice after failed cotton will have a low establishment cost with the flexibility to adjust inputs only if conditions continue to improve. The best alternative crop fully utilizes previous inputs and maximizes growing conditions anticipated for your farm. I know that there are several thousand acres of sesame contracted locally, but what about another drought tolerant crop like guar? With that said, I had a visit last week with folks from West Texas Guar, of Brownfield, Texas as they were in the area answering questions from some area farmers about guar.

Since farmers on the Texas South Plains have to deal with failed cotton more often than we do here, I gathered some information from Dr. Calvin Trostle, Agronomist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Lubbock, about guar production.

Guar is well suited for dryland production on ground that has few weed problems. It is tolerant of yellow herbicides (trifluralin) used in cotton production, but few other options are available for herbicides on guar (post emerge grass herbicide Select 2EC; also Sandea, a broadleaf herbicide from Gowan though activity on russian thistle, whiteweed and lakeweed is minimal). A label is being sought for 2,4-DB, which in research trials appears to work well. Because of the deep taproot on guar, this crop, like sunflower, favors large individual irrigations relative to frequent irrigation. The crop can take advantage of deep subsoil moisture when available even though rainfall may be infrequent.

Five varieties of guar are available, including the recent Texas Tech releases Matador and Monument, and all may be planted about the same time one would plant sesame here in the Coastal Bend. The crop matures in 120 to 140 days. One needs to plant only high-quality guar seed that is free of morning glories. Field observations since 1999 suggest that Lewis is slightly earlier in maturity than Kinman and particularly Santa Cruz. Dryland guar yields under average conditions are about 400-1,000 lbs. per acre and somewhat higher for irrigated.

Guar input costs at this point are minimal, and this should be considered when looking at gross and net return potential. Guar appears suitable for narrower row spacings, especially the non-branching Lewis and Monument varieties. Seed costs run about $0.40-1.00/lb., depending on if you agree to sign a contract, and seeding rates for dryland should target 5-10 pounds per acre, at the higher end as conditions are more favorable or as row spacing narrows. West Texas Guar now recommends that producers go ahead and use the higher seeding rate on dryland.

Guar is a legume, but getting it to nodulate very well has been difficult. Ideally guar seed should be inoculated with guar-specific Rhizobium, preferably one that has a sticker to adhere the inoculum to the seed for best results, and this treatment costs about $1 per acre.

There was some guar grown here in the early 1980s and according to some variety evaluation work done then the crop was suggested to be a good cover crop, with low input costs, while at the same time, the legume feature was appealing in that it could fix nitrogen in the soil for the following crop.

More information about guar can be found at this Web site; http://lubbock.tamu.edu/othercrops/guar.php .

Bottom line, we still need some significant rainfall before any alternative crop will be feasible.

DUAL MAGNUM RECEIVES SECTION 18 FOR SESAME

The Texas Department of Agriculture has issued a Crisis Exemption that authorizes the use of Dual Magnum to control weeds in sesame fields in Texas. The section 18 was needed for this herbicide because currently there are no labeled pre-emergent herbicides for broadleaf weed and small-seeded grass control in sesame.

ACRE WORKSHOP MAY 21

The Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University has released new decision aid software that will help crop producers assess the risk of receiving farm program payments. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service has planned a workshop to demonstrate the software.

The workshop will take place on Thursday, May 21, 2009 at the Texas Agrilife Research and Extension Center on Highway 44 just west of the Corpus Christi Airport, beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding by 10:30 a.m. The workshop will feature demonstrations of how to use the new decision aid software and updates from the Nueces and San Patricio County Farm Service Agency.

The ACRE decision aid was developed by faculty and staff at the center, said Dr. James Richardson, co-director, and funded in part by Cotton Incorporated and National Sorghum Producers.

The tool will help producers in deciding whether to continue receiving counter-cyclical payments (CCP) triggered during times of low prices, or opt for a revenue-based payment known as Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) triggered by low prices and/or yields.

"The ACRE Decision Aid is a Web-based model that allows you to enter the data for each of your farm units and view/print the results," said Dr. Joe Outlaw, co-director of the policy center. "You can save your input data and rerun the farm unit under alternative price and crop mix assumptions."

The decision aid is available at http://www.afpc.tamu.edu/models/acre/index.php.

The ACRE workshop is being sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the Farm Service Agency. For more information, please call 361-767-5223.

Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid, service or accommodation to participate in any of the mentioned activities, are encouraged to contact the County Extension Office eight days before all programs for assistance.

Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.

Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at 767-5217.