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10 Resolutions for Producing Sunflower

Wednesday, January 2, 2002
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

10 Resolutions for Producing Sunflower in 2002

Keep them and improve your profit potential

Sure, you can start the new year resolving to lose 10 pounds, but our guess is that you’ll trade in your diet of cabbage and carrot juice for a juicy T-bone and beer by Groundhog’s Day.

If you’re going to make New Year’s resolutions, here’s a list that are not only achievable, but guaranteed to increase your sunflower profit potential. A good share of the recommendations are courtesy of Duane Berglund, extension agronomist at North Dakota State University. Thus, in 2002, resolve to do the following:

1) Sell sunflower using the seasonal price pattern as a guide, and to forward contract a good portion of my 2002 production.

Sunflower follows a seasonal price pattern that usually peaks in the spring (see chart), when farmers are busy planting, not selling grain. Expect that seasonal price trend to continue in 2002, with sunflower prices holding strong into spring. Higher sunflower prices of late will likely draw more acreage planted to sunflower in 2002, which could dampen the price. Thus, look very hard at contracting a significant portion of your 2002 sunflower production by May. NDSU extension crops marketing specialist George Flaskerud advises pre-pricing up to two-thirds of your estimated sunflower production before harvest, using a combination of forward contracting and put options, using the Chicago soy oil option market.

2) Calibrate your planter.

If you’re to realize the advantages of solid seeding with an air seeder—advantages like better plant spacing and a quicker canopy—then be sure to calibrate your seeder. It’s also important to recalibrate every time you switch to planting a different variety, and even different seed lots of the same variety. Variances in per-pound seed count and/or seed shape can result in significant seeding error if you don’t recalibrate. For more on this topic, see the article “Calibrate, Calibrate, Calibrate!” on the Internet at Click on “The Sunflower Magazine,” then “the archives.” The article is under the equipment category.

3) Follow a proper crop rotation, and plant on ground that’s suitable for sunflower.

Resist the urge to shorten your crop rotation to take advantage of higher sunflower prices this year. Keep weeds, insects, and diseases at bay by following at least a three-year rotation, taking care not to follow sunflower too closely behind other broadleaf crops such as dry edible beans and canola. Plant sunflower on drier fields where broadleaf weeds have been controlled in the previous year’s small grain crop.

4) Plant sunflower in a timely fashion.

Too often, sunflower planting takes a back seat to small grains in the Northern Plains, and to corn in the High Plains. However, since sunflower is a crop that can offer higher income potential, it should be managed as such. Plant sunflower within the optimum timeframe in your locale.

5) Shoot for a 2,000-lb yield goal.

To reach that ton yield goal, you’ll generally need 100 lb. of total N which includes both soil and applied N. Test soils to determine what soil nutrients your sunflower crop will need, then apply it. Sample down to four feet if possible, since sunflower roots can reach that far.

6) Get faster stand establishment.

To this end, conduct a germ and vigor test if you’re using carryover seed. Don’t seed into soil that’s too wet or too dry. Consider boosting your plant population by 4,000 to 5,000 if using an air seeder and narrow row plant spacings. Plant into an ideal soil depth of 1.5 to 2.5 inches. Make sure the soil slice is closed and pressed firmly against the seed at planting. Don’t put starter fertilizer in the furrow with seed; put it off to the side.

7) Scout and treat pests in a timely manner.

Don’t take the easy weeds to control in sunflower—volunteer small grains and grassy weeds—for granted. If soil conditions are dry, and you plan to apply Spartan before planting for controlling annual small-seeded broadleaf weeds, consider applying Spartan further in advance of planting, to give a longer window of moisture for product activation.

Scout for insects starting with cutworms early in the growing season, then beetles, stem weevils, banded sunflower moth, and the seed weevil at early bloom. If you’re growing confection sunflower, budget for two insecticide treatments: one application at the onset of pollen spread or approximately 10% bloom, then a second treatment 7 days later. Take care not to apply insecticide in extremely hot weather, when treatment effectiveness may not be optimum.

8) Harvest sunflower in a timely manner.

Don’t just eye it: get a moisture test, especially if it’s a warm fall with low humidity. A good harvest range is 10 to 15% moisture. It can be more economical to artificially dry a crop that’s close to 15% moisture than to risk increased shelling once the standing crop falls below 10% moisture. That can be even more true with confections, because they have bigger, plumper seeds that don’t pack as tightly in the head, and thus the shelling potential increases compared to oil sunflower. Damage from birds, weather, and other causes will only get worse if harvest is delayed.

9) Dry and store sunflower properly at harvest.

This seems obvious, yet stories of sunflower seeds becoming so welded together in the bin that a pick axe is needed to loosen them are still too common. Sunflower can be stored for short periods at 12% moisture with adequate airflow to keep the seeds cool. But oil sunflower should not be stored above 10% moisture during the winter and 8% during the summer. Confection sunflower should not be stored above 10% moisture during the winter and 9% during the summer. Get more detailed tips in the harvest/storage category of The Sunflower magazine archives online,

10) Test for soil compaction.

Soil compaction is becoming a common problem in northwest Kansas, according to Roger Stockton, crops and soils specialist, Kansas State University, Colby. “I would estimate that two-thirds of the fields in northwest Kansas where I put a shovel into the field I find a plow pan, and nine times out of 10 sunflower will not penetrate that, and neither will rainfall very well.”

Stockton says soil compaction is a problem that should be taken care of before starting a no-till system. It’s also a problem that should be addressed if no-till is already being practiced.

“I’m all for minimal disturbance, but if plant roots are not penetrating this compacted zone, you’ve got to break that zone up so plant roots can get through it,” he says. “That’s a premise of making no-till work is having plant roots go down and decay, and provide macrospores for water infiltration. If we’ve short-circuited that process by having a compaction zone restricting root growth, then we’re asking the sunflower plant to do something it shouldn’t do: live on the top four inches of soil all summer long.”

Deep tillage is not necessary to breaking up the hard pan. “A lot of people think you have to run a plow 20 inches deep to do any good, but that’s not the case at all. You just have to get some steel an inch or so deeper than the compaction zone.”

Running straight shanks will help, and even better would be shanks curved at 45 degrees from the bottom for better soil lift. At the end of the last growing season, Stockton says KSU field staff ran a Paratill subsoiler through a research plot about 10 inches deep to break up the compacted soil. “It did a good job of breaking up the hard pan, and it left at least 90% of the soil residue at the surface,” he says.

For more information on evaluating soil compaction, see the article, “Postharvest is a Good Time for Soil Compaction Evaluation” under the fertility category of The Sunflower magazine online archives.—Tracy Sayler

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