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Progressive & Committed

Thursday, August 22, 2013
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

Among the most popular features at this year’s National Sunflower Association Summer Seminar, held in Medora, N.D., in late June, was the “Young Farmer Perspective” panel. The panel featured four sunflower producers from the Dakotas and Minnesota who are relatively young, progressive — and committed to this crop and its future on their farm. Each producer provided an overview of their farming operation and sunflower’s fit in it. They then answered questions from the audience.

The four panel members:

• Clint “Boomer” Patterson raises sunflower, durum, barley and spring wheat in a minimum-till operation near the north central North Dakota community of Bottineau. Patterson also hosts sunflower variety plots for various companies. The area’s heavy soils, while very productive, also offer challenges during seasons with excess moisture, like those experienced in recent years.

• Shannon Depoy has farmed with his father for about 20 years near Lantry in the northwestern region of South Dakota. The Depoys rotate sunflower, corn, spring wheat and winter wheat in a no-till system in this arid environment.

• Lance Hourigan farms with his father at Lemmon, S.D., near the North Dakota border. The Hourigan operation has been in no-till for nearly two decades, rotating sunflower, wheat, corn and soybeans.

• Kevin Capistran farms and operates a seed company near Crookston, in northwestern Minnesota, with his father, Wayne. The mostly conventional-till operation includes sunflower, sugarbeets, wheat, barley, soybeans and corn. Most of the Capistran crops are identity-preserved as either seed production or contracted specialty crops. Capistran also currently serves as president of the National Sunflower Association.

In his comments, Capistran said sunflower has remained a part of his rotation through the years for the most basic of reasons: “We’re making money doing it.” Typically following wheat within their conventional rotation, sunflower also has been a good agronomic fit, utilizing residual nitrogen. The Capistrans like to plant their sunflower quite early — by the 1st of May in some years, which also allows them to harvest it sooner and thus avoid significant blackbird damage.

In response to an audience question about weed control and Roundup Ready® crops in the rotation, Capistran said “the fact that we (sunflower) are not Roundup Ready is probably a positive right now,” given the amount of Roundup Ready soybeans, corn and sugarbeets in his area — and the increase in some weeds species’ resistance to glyphosate.

Sclerotinia remains a big challenge for sunflower in northwestern Minnesota, Capistran added, and one of the key reasons why there are not more ’flowers in the region. While noting the progress being made in Sclerotinia management and hybrid resistance levels, “it’s still a big hurdle” for the crop’s expansion in his area.

Hourigan initially worked in the advertising industry following his college years at South Dakota State University. But the farm drew him back, and he’s happy it did. “For us, sunflower works really well in our no-till system,” he noted.

The Hourigans utilize both an air seeder and a row-crop planter to put their sunflower crop in, with the ratio on their 2013 acreage being about 50:50. While singulation is better with the planter, they’ve also been satisfied with stands obtained with the air seeder. Most sunflower producers in the Lemmon area utilize the air-seeder approach, he noted.

When asked how the sunflower industry can convince the younger generation of farmers to stick with this crop, Hourigan had a one-word suggestion: “time.” Show young producers that sunflower isn’t that much more time-consuming as compared to other rotational crops, he stated. He also noted that one of sunflower’s advantages is its “forgiving” nature. “It performs well under diverse conditions,” Hourigan emphasized.

Depoy said that his family farmed conventionally up through the 1980s, then transitioned away from fallow and got into sunflower during the 1990s. That’s also when they moved into no-till, which has been very effective in their hot, arid farming conditions. “No-till has changed our farm a lot,” he affirmed. Depoy, who sells a substantial amount of sunflower into the birdseed market, used two air seeders and a corn planter to seed his 2013 ’flowers, with the ability to put down his fertilizer with the air seeders being a big plus. Later-planted sunflower (early to mid-June) tends to do better in his area.

“I like ’flowers,” Depoy emphasized. “They leave nice ground conditions for the spring wheat coming behind. But price is still important. It still boils down to money.”

Patterson has been farming on his own since his father passed away when Boomer was just 22. “Sunflower is what has paid the bills” through the years, he stated. The Bottineau County producer uses a 24-row John Deere 1770NT CCS planter equipped with the 20/20 SeedSense™ monitor and eSet™ vacuum kit. The SeedSense provides Patterson with real-time readings on plant population, singulation accuracy and percentages of skips and doubles, among other features.

At the other end of the growing season, Patterson prefers to harvest his ’flowers early, at 17-18% seed moisture. He has a high-oleic contract that, much to his liking, is full production with Act of God. Along with the crop being a consistently strong revenue producer through the years, Patterson also likes the timing of the sunflower production schedule. “It spreads out the workload nicely [in conjunction] with my small grains,” he stated.

— Don Lilleboe

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