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Back to Basics: A Sunflower Primer

Monday, March 1, 1999
filed under: Planting Systems

Is 1999 your initial year of sunflower production? Most readers of this

magazine will answer "no" to that question; but given the excellent U.S.

sunflower crop last year and the search by many farmers for rotation

alternatives, there will be some new producers this season. For them -

and for anyone else open to a refresher in sunflower production basics -

North Dakota State University extension agronomist Duane Berglund offers

these tips for getting your crop off to a strong start.

o Plant Quality Seed - Yields will be down if seed is poor. Seed germination should be high and the seeds of uniform size, with no cracking and free of disease.

o Plant Proven Hybrids - Give special consideration to varieties that

have been tested in university trials in your area or state and have, in

the process, displayed high yield potential, acceptable disease

resistance, strong oil content - and, if applicable, special traits that

fit your farm (e.g., midge tolerance for parts of eastern North Dakota

and western Minnesota).

o Timely Planting - Consult local or area specialists if you're unsure

of the appropriate sunflower planting window for your locale. For most

North Dakota producers, the latter half of May is the optimum period for

seeding sunflower, Berglund advises, in order to optimize the chances of

high yields and minimize the odds of frost, disease or insect problems.

"Date of planting trials in North Dakota have shown no yield reduction

when planting is delayed until latter May compared to early or mid-May,"

he says.

o Use Correct Populations - That's going to depend on your soil type and

moisture conditions, of course. For oil-type sunflower, Berglund

suggests striving for 20,000 to 24,000 plants per acre on heavy soils,

and 16,000 to 20,000 on lighter, sandy soils and in low-rainfall areas.

"For narrow-row sunflower in row width spacings of 15 inches or less,

increase the populations by about 4,000 plants per acre, depending on

the soil type," he advises. "For confection sunflower, populations of

15,000 to 18,000 plants per acre are recommended. For both sunflower

types, it's generally recommended to overplant seed by 15 percent to

obtain desired plant populations at harvest."

o Planting Depth - Plant at a depth of 1.5 inches if moisture is good.

"Deeper depths may be necessary under dry conditions - but not more than

three inches," Berglund states. "Larger-sized seed is best for deep

planting. Always seed to moisture."

o Herbicides - Always follow label information for best results,

Berglund reminds. "Thorough soil incorporation in two directions is a

'must' for many preplant-incorporated herbicides," he adds.

o Fertilize Via Soil Tests - "Fertilize for desired yields by use of

soil tests," the NDSU agronomist advises. "Nitrogen is perhaps the most

important nutrient required for high yields." As a general rule, five

pounds of actual N is required for each 100 pounds of sunflower seed

yield goal, so if you're shooting for 2,000-pound 'flowers, your crop

will need 100 pounds of total N.

o Monitor, Monitor - "Monitor early for insect problems, primarily

cutworms," Berglund states. "Cutworms can damage sunflower seedlings

prior to emergence and immediately following emergence.

"Sunflower is a high-management crop - one that needs a lot of

scouting," he concludes. "Producers need to continually monitor their

fields by walking them on a weekly basis - even more often at critical

periods when pest problems are likely."

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