The plant, a legume, grows well in semiarid regions and produces clusters of beans, from which a gummy substance can be extracted. Guar has been cultivated in India for centuries; the word in Hindi means “cow food.”
But its gummy substance is being used as a non-toxic lubricant to get sand into deep underground fractures in the fracking process to extract oil and gas.
Phil J. Laughlin, president of Southwest Agriculture in Houston, informed about 30 farmers at the crop tour about experimental plots of guar being grown in Refugio County.
The plots are being managed by Walt and Alfred Franke.
He said two 10-acre plots of guar have been planted.
“We contracted with Texas A&M to do the science on three varieties of guar,” Laughlin said.
He said if a guar variety is successful, he would be looking at commercial production in 2015.
“It’s something we believe that would add value to the county. We believe the South Texas region is good for guar,” Laughlin said.
He said if guar is good in Refugio County, it would be good two counties over, but many are not familiar with the crop in this region.
“We have 40 million pounds buying range over a year,” he said.
He added that several elevators currently are holding the crop from other producers in Southern California, Arizona and Texas. And he said he believed it would all be sold soon, mainly to oil and gas producers.
He said about 20,000 acres are available in Refugio County, but he thinks the crop only would be used as a secondary crop to start with.
If the plots are successful, he said he would be taking contract orders from those who want to grow the crop.
Laughlin said guar also is used in cosmetics and ice cream.
Also, Ronnie Schnell, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agent who has a doctorate in agriculture, gave updates on agronomy with a focus on meteorology.
However, Schnell also mentioned guar as a potentially good crop for South Texas.
He said it tolerates drought conditions but does need rain to grow. No rain, and guar stops growing, but it won’t die.
Schnell said rainfall is about 70 percent of normal for the period from Oct. 1 to the end of September.
He said El Nino is in effect, causing above normal temperatures, better chances for rain although below normal rainfall.
“Crops are in pretty good shape right now,” Schnell said. But he added that some are in need of rain.
Also, several experts talked about other farming updates and issues.
Stephen Biles, Integrated Pest Management agent, talked about soil testing for nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and zinc.
He advised that with the cost of fertilizer, soil testing can save a farmer money by finding out how much nitrogen is in the soil – ground testing vs. paying too much for more than you need.
He said a test should be done from 18 inches to two feet because often times, nitrogen is left in the soil and farmers can adjust fertilizing to how much is really needed.
Biles also warned farmers about a new insect moving into the area: the sugar cane aphid.
He said inspection of grain should be about mid stalk where the aphids stay. If the top of the grain gets sugar cane aphids, then it’s time to apply insecticide.
Also, Will Blackwell, Natural Resources Conservation Service agent, talked about the Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP.
One of the benefits of EQIP pertains to farmers with barns.
These farmers can get help setting up a rain collection system. The additional water can be used for a variety of purposes including supplementing drinking water for cattle.
Also, Darrek Dusek, zone manager for Texas Boll Weevil Eradication, said for the second year in a row, no weevils were found in Refugio County.
“Fourteen years ago, boll weevil pickups were everywhere,” Dusek said.
“We hardly see them now. And we haven’t caught a weevil this year,” he added.
He said the absence of weevils means a reduction in staff and a savings in money. However, weevils are still being found in the Rio Grande Valley area, and eradication continues there.
Also Jeff Nunley, South Texas Cotton and Grain legislative observer, gave legislative updates.
Nunley said the Farm Bill passed in February continues to be implemented.
“The USDA will publish final rules Sept. 1,” Nunley said.
And John MacSchmidt, an agent with the Texas Department of Agriculture, gave updates on laws and regulations, pertaining to insecticides.
In addition, Robert Garcia, Farm Service Agency county executive director, provided updates from the agency.
The annual Refugio County Crop Tour began in the Austwell-Tivoli area during the morning hours of June 11, and continued through the afternoon in the Bonnie View area.
A barbecue was provided at 7 p.m. and scholarship winners were announced.
Five scholarship winners were named and each will receive $500 from the Refugio County Crops Committee, according to Michael Donalson.
The recipients were Madalynn Nixon, Kasye McCool, Dalton Klare, Courtney Myers and Morgan Klaevemann.