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You Are Here Sunflower Magazine > A Look Back - 30 Years

Sunflower Magazine

A Look Back - 30 Years
December 2011

A Parting Interview With Ralph Hayenga — Editor’s Note: The late Ralph Hayenga retired in December 1981 as senior vice president of Honeymead Products Co., also having just completed a term as president of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. He was a track buyer and merchandiser with Farmers Union Grain Terminal Association in the 1950s. In 1961 GTA bought Minnesota Linseed (later Honeymead), a major flax processor. Hayenga became its vice president, dealing mainly in procurement and merchandising. In the 1960s, Minnesota Linseed/Honeymead and Cargill began promoting and contracting for oil sunflower production in the Red River Valley. Hayenga was his company’s “point man” in this effort and became a leader in the U.S. sunflower industry during the 1960s and 1970s. As this excerpt indicates, he also was not one to pull any punches.

“In the early days (mid-1960s), we used to have the complaint that the barley people would discount their barley if it had sunflower in it. And, of course, the only answer to that is: hell, the barley people discount their barley for having barley in it.

“But cultural practices were not as refined as they are today in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Plant populations per acre, for example, were much too heavy. Also, the farmer often used the worst piece of ground he had for sunflower, for the farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota considered themselves first, foremost and always wheat growers. I’ve said many times that the farmer — even though he may have lost money on wheat — when he went up to the Pearly Gates and St. Peter met him and asked, ‘What did you do?’ and he said, ‘I grew wheat for God,’ St. Peter would say, ‘You come in and enter.’ But if he went up there and said, ‘I’m a sunflower grower,’ St. Peter would say, ‘What the hell is that? Go down below.’ ”

Sun Oil-Powered Vehicle Tops Future Fuels Rally — “With the help of a converted diesel truck engine in a jeep body, sunflower oil was declared the most energy-efficient fuel in the recent Future Fuels Challenge Rally. In the Los Angeles to New York City drive, sunflower oil outperformed such fuels as ethanol alcohol, vegetable oil, wood, electricity and solar hydrogen.

“ ‘We chose sunflower oil as our fuel based on its strong potential as a crop in the future,’ remarked winning driver Bob Harmon. Harmon, of Placerville, Calif., is owner of Zeitgeist Diesel Applications which produces custom jeeps powered with French-made Peugeot diesel truck engines. . . .

“The engine used sunflower oil which had been degummed but was not highly refined. Using oil in this near-crude stage was possible because Harmon’s conversion features were aimed at utilizing oil in its most inexpensive state. . . . Harmon’s conversion features included enlarged filters, a radiator heat-exchanger to keep the fuel warmed and thin, and an indirect injection chamber to atomize the fuel to mix with heated air produced by the turbo-charged engine.”

In Search of 3,000 Pounds / Val Eylands, Dahlgren & Company — “Just as corn researchers and growers are in quest of 300-bushel corn, so are we in the sunflower industry in search of 3,000-pound-per-acre yields. An impossible goal? Not at all. In fact, a 3,000-pound yield has been consistently obtained under irrigation by Washington growers and also by some dryland growers in the state of New York, where precipitation during the growing season is usually over 25 inches.

“The magic number was also obtained by several growers in northern Minnesota this year. And with reports of some 2,500 pound-per-acre yields from central North Dakota and 2,200 pounds from western North Dakota, it appears that we are creeping closer to our goal all the time.

“What, then, are the ingredients and limiting factors to the 3,000-pound plateau?

“1. Moisture — Without a doubt, available water is the most critical factor for optimum yields. As sunflower will yield somewhere between 100 and 140 pounds per acre per inch of available water, close to 25 inches of stored soil moisture plus precipitation during the growing season is necessary for a 3,000-pound yield. . . .

“2. Weed Control — A sunflower yield will rarely make even a ton if the weed control is not good. . . . [This] is one factor that all high-yielding sunflower fields have in common. . . .

“3. Fertility — A 3,000-pound sunflower crop needs high fertility rates — in the neighborhood of 150-170 pounds of nitrogen per acre, 60-75 pounds of phosphate and 200 pounds of potash. . . .

“4. Variety — Even some of the older public varieties can make 3,000 pounds under ideal conditions in the state of Washington. . . . Once we get into the ‘Sunflower Belt’ of Minnesota and the Dakotas, no variety yet has the ability to consistently top 3,000 pounds; but the fact that it has happened shows that under top management, and with above-average moisture conditions, a few of the best varieties do have the potential.

“5. Population and Stand — It appears that a population of at least 25,000 plants per acre is probably necessary for a 3,000-pound yield. In high moisture areas, a stand of 30,000 to 32,000 plants per acre is not uncommon. Again, we must caution the sunflower grower that under average dryland conditions in the Northern Plains, planting at this rate with large quantities of nitrogen would only encourage severe lodging problems. . . .

“6. Harvest Procedures — Painstaking attention to cylinder speed, concave and sieve settings, as well as wind adjustments, will pay off for the grower. . . . Many growers believe that sunflower harvests best at about 15 percent seed moisture. . . .”

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