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3,000 lb Sunflower

Thursday, December 15, 2005
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

Three thousand pound sunflower crops have been harvested in the High Plains under irrigation, but in the non-irrigated, shorter season Northern Plains? 3,000 lbs/acre?

Indeed, there were numerous reports of sunflower coming close to and even exceeding this phenomenal harvest benchmark.

“Best ‘flowers we ever raised,” says Bill Arbach, who farms near Hoven, S.D. “It was just that type of year where everything worked out.”

Arbach’s NuSun’s this year yielded 2,989 lbs/ac. “So I suppose if I wanted to stretch things, it’d be 3,000 lbs,” he says. Arbach planted around the third week of May, no-tilled into the previous year’s spring wheat ground, in 30-inch rows with a population of about 23,000 plants/ac. “They were harvested early and harvested dry, everything went perfect.”

It was a good season overall for row crops in the Northern Plains, with good heat units and timely rains. “Corn and soybeans did well too, but ‘flowers seemed to be even more impressive,” says one seed company representative in the southern Red River Valley. “It was almost like two crops in one.”

3,400 lb ‘flowers

After seven years away from the crop, brothers Bob, Bill, and David Schwab grew NuSun and high oleic sunflower on their farm near Englevale, N.D. It was Sclerotinia that prompted them to drop ‘flowers from their rotation that includes wheat, soybeans, corn, and dry edible beans. The attractive price was a key reason they picked up the crop again.

The Schwabs picked a good year to get back into ‘flowers – they had one field of NuSun weigh in with a 37.5 lb test weight, close to 48% oil, and a 3,400 lb yield average. “I couldn’t believe it,” says Bob, “but I knew they were running good because I could barely go a round with the combine, and usually I can make a round with ton ‘flowers. So we had a guy come out and weigh them.” Parts of the field actually ran 3,500 to 3,700 lbs/ac. “First ‘flowers we’ve ever combined that were that good.”

The field was planted around May 20, into no-till wheat stubble with a plant population of about 22,000. They knifed anhydrous in at planting and this particular field was fertilized with a yield goal of around 2,500 lbs. Bob says the crop developed an excellent root system, and speculates that the sunflower took advantage of available soil N. “I think that’s where we got our big yields,” he says. “That tap root will go down at least three to four feet, and it went down and got a lot of that fertilizer already in the ground.”

Few pest problems to speak of also helped the Schwabs’ sunflower crop pack on the pounds. After applications of glyphosate and Prowl H20 at planting, the crop pretty much outpaced any weed competition and harvested quite clean, says Bob. There was little to no disease, and the only insect problem was a bout with early season cutworms in one of the high oleic fields, which they treated with insecticide.

“All season long, the ‘flowers looked really good, with nice uniform heads. There was enough moisture where they filled right to the max. A lot of times you’ll get small seeds in the middle, but these were nice, big, fat seeds right to the middle,” says Bob. “The ‘flowers made more money than any of the rest of the crops this year when we figured it all out.”

“3,000 common this year”

Mike Appert, who farms near Hazelton, N.D., planted high oleic sunflower this year, along with some confections. He says yield usually tops out around 2,000 to 2,500 lbs/ac in his area, but this year, it was around 3,000 or more, including the yield average on his farm.

“All summer long, we knew we had something coming,” he says. “From Hazelton to Strasburg to Napoleon, three thousand is common this year, it’s not rare at all. It was an unbelievable sunflower year.” There’s some talk in the area of sunflower hitting 4,000 lbs, he adds.

From a production management standpoint, Appert says there’s really nothing he did differently this year. “It was basically Mother Nature’s cooperation,” he says. “It was just a good row crop year. A lot of 160 to 180 bushel corn, and 50 to 60 bushel soybeans. We’ll take a year like that every year.”

There were timely rains for the sunflower crop, with ideal weather during pollination, and rain in August that finished the crop out. “The crop never showed any stress,” he says. He did spray for seed weevils, but otherwise didn’t have any yield-threatening pest problems.

Appert planted sunflower into last year’s barley stubble or soybean ground, fertilized his ‘flowers like he usually does, at about 150 lbs of N/ac, and planted toward the end of May with a plant population around 22,000-23,000. He planted sunflower in 20” rows with his row crop planter. “You used to see more solid seeding around here but there’s a switch going back the other way, and now you see more sunflower going in again with planters. The planters seem to work better around here than air seeders. No triples or gaps with even spacing, and heads are all the same size and more uniform. I definitely think it makes a difference.” – Tracy Sayler

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