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Keeping Confection Sunflower Atop the Profit Scale

Thursday, November 1, 2007
filed under: Planting Systems

By Reg Herman

I farm with my wife and five children at Brinsmade, which is located in Benson County in the northeastern part of North Dakota. We raise wheat, durum, oil and confection sunflower, corn, soybeans, pintos and barley. I went into banking after college and then started farming with my father, Dwayne, in 1983.

Sunflower has been an important part of our rotation, so we keep our acres fairly consistent. I try to make the decision of where the ’flowers will be planted during the prior wheat harvest because fall planning and activities help achieve a profitable crop the following season. I guess I look at the decisions like a process: Once the decision of where to grow sunflower is made, it sets off a stream of activities — from immediate decisions like conventional versus no-till all the way through final delivery to market.

The first step in the process is how many acres and where. Honestly, agronomics, not economics pretty much drive this decision. Looking at rotation history, including disease, weed pressures, birds and prior crops, I determine where seeds are planted. This decision is usually made about July the prior year. I have learned the hard way that my mistakes are costly.

Putting sunflower on the right fields is the first key step to success. I prefer planting into corn, barley, wheat or soybean ground. I repeatedly see that canola in the rotation is likely a step on the road toward disaster.

This step then leads to deciding on whether to plant conventional confection varieties, Clearfield confection, Express tolerant oil varieties or standard NuSun. Ragweed and cocklebur history should always move my decision toward Express or Clearfield. Wetlands and likely blackbird trouble will affect, but not stop, a production decision.

Secondly comes preparation for next year. I decide in July so that preharvest decisions can be made in order to benefit next year’s sunflower crop. Pre- or post- harvest Roundup is pretty much a given. Since we do a lot of no-till, this has to be decided at this point (Aug 20). Next is our soil test and decision on tillage. We like to apply chemical in the fall, so the tillage decision drives our chemical choice. Treflan is tilled and Prowl is not.

In spring, the no-till fields get Roundup as soon of feasible, while Roundup on tilled fields is optional. We seed with either a Bourgault with mid-row banders, a John Deere 1890 in 15-inch rows, or a John Deere 1770NT in 30-inch rows. I really have little preference, except that in dry conditions I prefer the 1890.

It seems that stand establishment is not a problem with any of the machines, other than the hoe opener is not forgiving in wet conditions because it will slab and overpack. The seed must be given time to dry to proper tilth.

Spartan is often applied, either pre- or post-plant and at reduced rates. A grass herbicide is always applied, generally along with a 2.5 oz shot of Assert and half rate of oil.

The new glyphosate label has provided a new angle for harvest, so now we try to figure where to apply Roundup, gramoxone, or just let the crop dry naturally. (It looks like we will use a combination of all three methods this fall.) Then finally we use a combination of high-temp dryer and air bins, usually starting harvest at about 20% seed moisture.

Sunflower has been a great fit for us. During the wet years, our best barley and wheat followed sunflower. I am sure we will continue with 10 to 20% of our acres in sunflower.

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