Article Archives
Soil Erosion on 'Flower Ground? Not a Problem!

Wednesday, March 1, 2000
filed under: Rotation

For many soil conservation specialists, sunflower would rank fairly

low on the list of suggested crops to plant on erosion-prone soils —

particularly if one is following the ’flowers with summer fallow. A

lack of post-harvest plant residue and resulting low soil cover is the

chief concern commonly expressed.

It’s a concern Duaine Dodsworth does not share, however. In fact,

the northeastern Colorado grower says the only problematic experience

he’s had with planting a crop on ground coming out of sunflower was once

having too much residue for his drill to properly handle.

Like many other High Plains producers who have successfully

incorporated sunflower into their dryland cropping rotations, Dodsworth

takes a “system-wide” approach to managing crop residue and minimizing

erosion. In his case, that system includes plenty of help from the

preceding dryland corn crop.

Sunflower almost always succeeds corn on Dodworth’s sandy loam Yuma

County soils. Along with its significant residue contribution, “I have

lower input costs following corn because there’s not that fallow period

[as is the case] after wheat,” he explains. “So I can plant straight

into the corn stalks.”

Combined with his lack of preplant tillage expense is a minimal

investment in herbicides for the ’flowers. Dodsworth tries to keep the

corn ground as clean as possible in anticipation of the sunflower crop.

Should weed populations warrant it, he’ll apply one or two pre-emergence

burndowns in the ’flowers. In some years, he says, even that treatment

hasn’t been necessary. In-season weed control may consist of one

cultivation and perhaps an application of Poast for volunteer corn

and/or sandbur. Neither operation is needed every year, however.

Dodsworth alters his sunflower planting pattern to take optimum

advantage of the corn residue. Sometimes he will split the corn rows;

at other times he’ll plant diagonally; and in some years he opts to seed

the ’flowers crossways to the old corn rows. He prefers going

perpendicularly because it distributes the residue — some of which has

been moved into the harvested corn rows by winter and early spring winds

— more evenly throughout the field.

A longtime member of the Colorado Conservation Tillage Association,

Dodsworth is serving his second term as the group’s president. His goal

is to be 100-percent no-till, possibly using a chem-fallow period

following the sunflower harvest and prior to drilling winter wheat.

Central to his ability to do so, he reiterates, is the significant

amount of corn residue remaining following the sunflower harvest. His

sunflower stalks are always left standing as well to help blunt winds

and trap winter snows. “The abundance of residue at wheat drilling time

also is partly due to the fact that I usually spray one time in the

spring of the fallow year, and then can get by working the ground two or

three times — using sweeps with treaders — prior to drilling wheat,” he


Unlike a standard High Plains rotation of three or four crops,

Dodsworth is working toward a six- to seven-year rotation. Along with

sunflower and corn, the rotation would encompass proso millet, Roundup

Ready soybeans (of which he had a 38-variety test plot on his farm last

year), two years of wheat and the fallow period.

“That gives me two years of cool-season grasses, two years of

warm-season grasses and two years of broadleaves,” Dodsworth points

out. Such a combination also represents differing levels of crop water

use, helps break up weed cycles, aids with disease prevention and

spreads out his workload. — Don Lilleboe

return to top of page

   More about Sunflower ►