’Flowers Intended for 458,000
As of September, USDA’s Farm Service Agency was estimating the prevented planting total for North Dakota in 2011 was just over 5.6 million acres. The major reason, of course, were the wet conditions that blocked many farmers from planting a cash crop on much of their acreage this past spring.
The heaviest-hit counties were in the north central and northwestern parts of the state. Ward County had the dubious “honor” of being number one with nearly 494,000 prevented planting acres, followed by Bottineau (more than 438,000), Williams (380,000-plus), Renville (373,000) and Divide (371,000-plus).
North Dakota farmers had planned to plant a sunflower crop on nearly 458,000 of those 5.6 million acres — 396,000 of oil-type ’flowers and just over 62,000 of confections. About 114,600 of those intended sunflower acres were in Bottineau County of north central North Dakota, with almost 63,000 in nearby Ward County. The next highest prevented planting/sunflower counties — Renville (58,500-plus acres) and McHenry (51,000-plus) — sit adjacent to Bottineau and Ward. Together, these four counties make up nearly 63% of the state’s total sunflower prevented planting acreage in 2011.
Brian and Kristie Michels own Production Service Agronomy (PSA), serving eastern Renville and western Bottineau County farmer-clients within a 50-mile radius of Mohall. They report that only 20% of their customers’ acres were seeded this year. “We had an unusually wet fall in 2010, so our soils were saturated at freeze-up,” Brian explains. “Then, with the high amount of snowfall last winter and a late spring, fields were very wet at planting time.” About the only fields in the area planted this year, he adds, “were sunflower fields from the prior year or fields with good slope and drainage.”
Approximately 20% of the prevented planting acres operated by PSA customers were seeded to a cover crop in 2011 — mainly a mix of radish, turnip, field pea and a small grain (either barley or oats). “One of the reasons radishes are used in a cover crop [mixture] is to help break up hard pans because of their deep root,” Brian notes.
Would sunflower be a good candidate for 2012 planting on this year’s prevented planting acres? In many instances, yes. “I expect normal to slightly higher amounts of sunflower will be planted next year to help manage the excess water we have stored in our soil profiles on these prevent plant acres,” Brian says.
A corollary benefit with sunflower could be its ability to utilize deep-profile nitrogen that went unused during the 2011 growing season, suggests North Dakota State University extension agronomist Hans Kandel.
Nitrogen fertilizer that was applied during the fall of 2010 or the spring of 2011 “may have been lost into the gas form (due to saturated conditions), taken up by weeds, or moved down into the soil profile,” Kandel points out. “Sunflower has a deep taproot and can access nitrogen that has moved down.”
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