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Young North Dakota Picks Good Year to Try 'Flowers

Friday, January 1, 1999
filed under: Planting Systems

Kidder County has never been, it's fair to say, a hotbed of North Dakota sunflower production. In the five-year period of 1987-1991, this county, located east of Bismarck in the state's south central region, averaged just 3,420 harvested sunflower acres per year. During 1992-96

that acreage level rose by 60, to 3,480.

One pocket where none of that small acreage existed lies several miles south of Pettibone, just a couple miles off I-94. Wheat has long dominated the locale's rolling landscape, supplemented by some corn acreage and, more recently, irrigated potato ground.

Last season, however, Neil Fanta decided to seed two fields - one of them coming out of CRP - into dryland sunflower. It was the first time either field had been in 'flowers; but with wheat prices in the dumpster, the young producer felt the timing was right.

It was - in more ways than one. The Fanta ex-CRP ground ended up yielding 2,000 pounds per acre. The second dryland field averaged a whopping 2,500 pounds. "The profit from the sunflower was sure a lot better than the wheat," Neil reports, echoing the experience of many

other Great Plains producers this past year.

Fanta, who farms with his father, Don, applied a burndown treatment of Roundup on the CRP field, then plowed it. He used his Wishek disk to level the rough ground, then made a pass with a field cultivator before planting the 'flowers. "It was dry when we worked it, but we had a

three-inch rain right after planting," he recounts, adding that the entire season was marked by ample, timely rainfall.

Knowing he can't count on such favorable moisture conditions every year, Fanta plans to reduce his 1999 seed drop slightly - from 19,-20,000 down to about 17,000. Quackgrass was the only significant weed problem this past year, "but we'll try and get the fields even cleaner before we plant the 'flowers" this coming spring, he indicates. On a portion of the sunflower acreage, that program will consist of a Roundup burndown, followed by preplant incorporated Sonalan.

Part of the Fanta farm is certified as organic, and they will be seeding some of the 1999 sunflower crop on organic ground. Weed control on that acreage will, of course, consist of tillage. "The fields are pretty clean right now. We worked it once last fall and will work it

pretty well in the spring - and then cultivate as necessary," Neil relates. He also plans to move up his sunflower planting date to hasten plant canopy closure and hopefully assist with in-season weed suppression.

The Fantas intend to plant about 1,000 acres to sunflower in 1999, up from the 300 of this past season. Neil, who also is a seed dealer, says he has received a number of inquiries about sunflower from other farmers in his vicinity - leading him to conclude that the traditional scarcity of 'flowers in his part of Kidder County is poised to change. - Don


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