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Warm Welcome Back to Flowers

Thursday, November 13, 2003
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

It's been eight years since Bob Klemetson has grown sunflower, but it probably won't be that long again. The Ulen, Minn. farmer received a warm welcome back to 'flowers this year, harvesting a NuSun crop that yielded a healthy 2,000 lbs/ac, with oil around 47%.

"My neighbor got 2,600 lbs and 48% oil, but I'm still fairly happy with how we did as an average," he says. Plus, any time you can raise sunflowers with minimal input expense, minimal pest problems, harvest in balmy T-shirt weather, and even capture an LDP- well, that all adds up to a nice welcome-back bonus.

Before the 2003 growing season began, Klemetson was looking at expanding his wheat-soybean rotation. He considered corn, but then decided on sunflower, for several reasons. His local grain elevator began accepting delivery of NuSun, and with sunflower, he felt there'd be less need for a grain dryer. "This year it worked out that guys could just use natural air, but with corn, it usually seems like you end up needing a dryer for some of it."

Klemetson planted his sunflower this year on May 1, as early as possible. "I risked the frost, but it turned out for the better. It's nice to combine in T-shirt weather. And when you talk to seed reps, they say you're better off in this area in avoiding disease and blackbirds that tend to move in later in the year."

He applied a desiccant in early September to dry the crop down even earlier. "They turned black almost the next day, but it took about 10 days to dry down. I combined some about seven days after I put the Gramoxone (paraquat) down, and they were still 16% moisture. At 10 days, they were down to 10%."

The early dry-down, along with ensuring a mid-September harvest in more favorable weather, also enabled a loan deficiency payment of $0.75/cwt. Klemetson figures the early dry-down of 300 acres of his sunflower with a desiccant cost about $6 an acre, including the aerial application. Subtracting the $2,400 desiccant cost, Klemetson figures the 75-cent LDP netted him an extra $1,400.

Unlike the posted county price for grain that changes daily, the sunflower LDP rate changes once a week on Friday. "It gives you a chance to see what the market will do," Klemetson explains. "Say it goes up 50 cents during the week; you can catch the LDP on Thursday before they change it on Friday. You've gained your 50 cents, and you get your LDP."

Remember, an LDP request must be made before you sell or lose beneficial interest in the crop, and if you take the LDP, you can't put the grain under CCC loan.

Contracting for delivery or delayed pricing can affect beneficial interest; check out your options with your local Farm Service Agency office before giving up control of the harvested grain.

Klemetson had a short window to capture his sunflower LDP. At one point in September, it was about $1.25 (the LDP rate he was aiming for). Then it dropped from $0.75 (the rate at which Klemetson received his LDP) to $0.36 the next week, and to zero the week after that. "I maybe could have caught a better LDP if I would have sprayed earlier, but I didn't want to spray any earlier than I had to," he says.

A study at North Dakota State University of LDP rates in three N.D. counties from 1998-2001 (a time span of low prices and high LDPs) indicated that the highest LDP rates for oil sunflower occurred at or shortly after harvest during two out of three years. For the 1998 crop, rates climbed considerably during 1999. In contrast, the highest rates occurred during October and November for the 1999 and 2000 crops.

Disease spurred by excessive moisture prompted Klemetson to quit raising sunflower in the mid 1990s. Picking up the crop again this year, he bought a 12-row, 22" planter, and rented a combine header for harvesting.

Before planting sunflower into last year¡¦s wheat stubble, he had his local co-op apply preplant trifluralin at the same time broadcast fertilizer was spread. "They have a wet boom on their floater. You're paying them to spread fertilizer anyway, so it doesn't cost much more to put down the trifluralin in the same pass."

Klemetson made one pass with a row crop cultivator for early-season weed control. "So from an economics standpoint, it was a pretty cheap crop to raise. The seed, fertilizer, and trifluralin was really about the only input costs I had with it."

He credits early planting and favorable weather with helping to avoid any disease problems, and figures the early start, along with the desiccant dry-down, with helping to beat bird damage as well. Klemetson sold a good share of this year's sunflower harvest at $11.50 cwt ($10.90 + $0.80 oil premium).

"Sunflower worked out well for us this year. We're going to plant more again next year," Klemetson says. He figures about the only thing he'll do differently in 2004 is to apply a post-emerge herbicide. "I had some mustard problems in areas where I got caught by rain before I could get in with the cultivator. I did some spot spraying with Select for quackgrass, and it helped."

It was a good harvest all the way around for Klemetson; his wheat averaged about 55 bu/ac, and soybeans about 32 bu/ac, not bad considering the dry conditions during the latter part of the growing season. "There are times one crop will do well but not the other," he says. "It's nice to get a full crop for a change." -- Tracy Sayler

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