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SPECIAL SECTION: Optimizing Sunflower Yield

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

During the 30-plus years the National Sunflower Association has been in existence, there have been several occasions when a producer mentioned dryly that, due to the conditions, he “had” to plant sunflower. Such an attitude doesn’t bode well for achieving top yields. Yet when looking at the yield data, it’s obvious the majority of you manage your crop to attain yields at the high end of the scale.

Sunflower yields have been improving through the years. Some of that is due to improved hybrids; some to improved inputs (such as new weed control options). But a majority of it is due to hard work on the part of you, the producer.

This insert’s focus on reaching the top yield is obviously important for your bottom line. But it’s also vital for the overall industry. The ability of sunflower products to be competitive in the food market is ultimately comes back to yield.

Research scientists know there is a great deal of room for improving yields. Research plots are one indication on a per-hybrid basis. But then there are the actual field data from commercial fields. It is not uncommon to hear yield reports of 3,000 lbs-plus on dryland fields. There even is the occasional report of 4,000 lbs/ac. So the potential definitely exists for bumping yields higher.

The annual NSA crop survey has continued to identify plant spacing — or lack of uniform plant stand — as the number-one reason for a surveyed field not attaining its yield potential. That, of course, is a head scratcher because there are so many variables that go into plant stand establishment. In conducting a few of the annual field surveys over the years, it was always a real pleasure to be in a field where the plants uniformly stand 10 inches apart and the head size is consistently seven inches in diameter. It is those fields that are consistently in that 3,000-lb category based on the calculated yield formula.

This crop has a reputation to the effect that “everything living likes a sunflower field.” There is no question that sunflower has plenty of insect pests, some of which attack the seedling. But the new and improved seed treatments have gone a long way toward blunting those pests. Disease issues are always lurking. Downy mildew continues to be a real challenge despite better fungicide seed treatments and more-resistant genes. The list of pests goes on. But so do genetic improvements and registered crop protection products. More improvements are on the research assembly line.

Over the years, I have heard lots of producers’ comments about this crop. At the end of the day, though, the most common producer testament has been that sunflower has consistently provided profitable returns, year in and year out. In some cases you went so far as to say that sunflower saved the farm when overall conditions were very bad.

We hope that you find a few meaningful tips and ideas in this insert to help increase your bottom line. That, in turn, is good for everyone else who is dependent upon this crop. We are always looking for your suggestions of what is working for you in your operation. The best to you in the 2012 season and beyond.

— Larry Kleingartner
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