Back to Basics: A Sunflower Primer
Is 1999 your initial year of sunflower production? Most readers of this
magazine will answer "no" to that question; but given the excellent U.S.
sunflower crop last year and the search by many farmers for rotation
alternatives, there will be some new producers this season. For them -
and for anyone else open to a refresher in sunflower production basics -
North Dakota State University extension agronomist Duane Berglund offers
these tips for getting your crop off to a strong start.
o Plant Quality Seed - Yields will be down if seed is poor. Seed germination should be high and the seeds of uniform size, with no cracking and free of disease.
o Plant Proven Hybrids - Give special consideration to varieties that
have been tested in university trials in your area or state and have, in
the process, displayed high yield potential, acceptable disease
resistance, strong oil content - and, if applicable, special traits that
fit your farm (e.g., midge tolerance for parts of eastern North Dakota
and western Minnesota).
o Timely Planting - Consult local or area specialists if you're unsure
of the appropriate sunflower planting window for your locale. For most
North Dakota producers, the latter half of May is the optimum period for
seeding sunflower, Berglund advises, in order to optimize the chances of
high yields and minimize the odds of frost, disease or insect problems.
"Date of planting trials in North Dakota have shown no yield reduction
when planting is delayed until latter May compared to early or mid-May,"
o Use Correct Populations - That's going to depend on your soil type and
moisture conditions, of course. For oil-type sunflower, Berglund
suggests striving for 20,000 to 24,000 plants per acre on heavy soils,
and 16,000 to 20,000 on lighter, sandy soils and in low-rainfall areas.
"For narrow-row sunflower in row width spacings of 15 inches or less,
increase the populations by about 4,000 plants per acre, depending on
the soil type," he advises. "For confection sunflower, populations of
15,000 to 18,000 plants per acre are recommended. For both sunflower
types, it's generally recommended to overplant seed by 15 percent to
obtain desired plant populations at harvest."
o Planting Depth - Plant at a depth of 1.5 inches if moisture is good.
"Deeper depths may be necessary under dry conditions - but not more than
three inches," Berglund states. "Larger-sized seed is best for deep
planting. Always seed to moisture."
o Herbicides - Always follow label information for best results,
Berglund reminds. "Thorough soil incorporation in two directions is a
'must' for many preplant-incorporated herbicides," he adds.
o Fertilize Via Soil Tests - "Fertilize for desired yields by use of
soil tests," the NDSU agronomist advises. "Nitrogen is perhaps the most
important nutrient required for high yields." As a general rule, five
pounds of actual N is required for each 100 pounds of sunflower seed
yield goal, so if you're shooting for 2,000-pound 'flowers, your crop
will need 100 pounds of total N.
o Monitor, Monitor - "Monitor early for insect problems, primarily
cutworms," Berglund states. "Cutworms can damage sunflower seedlings
prior to emergence and immediately following emergence.
"Sunflower is a high-management crop - one that needs a lot of
scouting," he concludes. "Producers need to continually monitor their
fields by walking them on a weekly basis - even more often at critical
periods when pest problems are likely."
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