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High Oil Content Always a Big Plus

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
filed under: Planting Systems

By Eric Moberg

Like every farmer who raises oil-type sunflower, I’m very tuned into the value of a high-oil-content crop. The 2:1 premium on oils above 40% can really make a difference when you get that check from the elevator.

A 45% oil translates into a 10% price premium, so if you hit a $15.00 ’flower market, that’s another $1.50 per cwt. Should a grower end up with a 48% oil, that’s another $2.40/cwt., given a $15.00 base price.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have some very good oils the past several years — as high as 49%. The most important factor in hitting that level, in my opinion, is the hybrid you’re planting. Yield capacity is awfully important, as is the disease resistance package. So long as a hybrid is competitive in those areas, I’m quick to examine how it does in the oil content department. I’ve had the best luck in recent years with Croplan’s 3080.

But we’re always looking for promising new hybrids, too. I know there are quite a few high-oil hybrids out there from various seed companies. We’ve tried a lot of different varieties, and even do some comparison trials on our farm.

Our yield goal in a “normal” year is 1,800 pounds. If we have a little more moisture going into the season, we’ll probably bump it up a bit.

We always soil test, paying close attention to the crop’s nitrogen needs. Along with allowing us to achieve our yield objectives, having the right amount of nitrogen available to our ’flowers also benefits oil development.

Planting date counts as well. Since we farm in extreme northern North Dakota, we don’t get in early. We used to wait until the end of May or early part of June to plant sunflower. During the last few years, though, we’ve pushed that up to mid-May. As long as the soil temperature is adequate, we’ll go.

We have two air seeders, with one of them dedicated to planting sunflower. It’s a modified Bourgault unit, and we feel it does a very acceptable job. The seed spacing may not be as precise as with a row-crop planter, but we don’t believe our yield — or oil content — has suffered.

Weed control is important, too, of course. We try to get on top of things in the fall, putting down a good rate of glyphosate on those fields where we plan to put sunflower the next year. We’ll typically apply a pre-emergent herbicide like Spartan; then come back later with a grass product.

But again, in my mind, achieving high oil content starts with the variety. That’s the foundation. After that, it becomes a matter of helping that hybrid achieve its oil potential through a timely planting date, proper fertility, good weed control and, hopefully, plenty of heat units!

Eric Moberg farms near Mohall, N.D. Together, he, his father Emmet and brother Brad raise about 2,000 acres of sunflower in their respective farming operations. An NDSU ag engineering graduate, Moberg spends much of his winter working as an engineer at Gates Manufacturing in nearby Lansford. He also servies on the board of directors of Sun Prairie Grain, a division of CHS.
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