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‘40’ Years Ago

Saturday, August 14, 2021
filed under: Historical

        Editor’s Note:  The Sunflower’s 1991 publishing schedule did not include an issue in either August or September.  So our regular ’30 Years Ago’ page this month instead goes back 40 years, to the August/September 1981 issue.
        Satellite Helps Crop Monitoring / By John Sperbeck — “Satellite images and aerial photographs are being used on an experimental basis to monitor major portions of Minnesota’s sunflower crop.
        “With the financial backing of a federal program called AgRISTARS, University of Minnesota researchers are combining talents to determine how sunflower stress conditions can be assessed on a regional, early-warning basis using satellite data.
        “The techniques being tested in the experiment are tools that have grown out of the science of ‘remote sensing.’  Remote sensing allows researchers to obtain information about objects without being in physical contact with them.
        “The human eye is a familiar remote sensor.  You eye is sensitive to visible electromagnetic energy — light.  Many new electromagnetic sensors are now available which ‘see’ not only visible light but also energy outside of the visible portion of the spectrum.  Some of these sensors are simple; some are complex.  Some are research tools; some are operational systems.
        “Tom Lillesand, director of the university’s Remote Sensing Laboratory, explains that the two sensing systems are being used in the Morris area this summer to monitor sunflower.  The first is the Landsat satellite, a system that images virtually the entire globe every 18 days (every nine days when two satellites are in tandem orbits). . . . From an image acquired from a distance of 569 miles above the earth, researchers can analyze areas on the ground as small as one acre.
        “ ‘We are trying to use Landsat data to detect sunflower stress due to things like drought, disease, nutrient deficiencies and insects,’ Lillesand says.  ‘In order to interpret accurately what we see on the satellite images, we need reliable ground information, and that takes cooperation’ . . . from fellow researchers to the individual farmer.”
        Sonny Shirek — If You Can’t Buy It, Invent It — “If Daniel Shirek can’t find the right piece of equipment for the job, he’ll invent it.
        “The 46-year-old North Dakota farmer discovered he could make his own tractor cabs better than any he could buy back in 1969.  ‘I wanted one with sliding doors, so I built it myself,’ says Shirek, who is widely known simply as ‘Sonny’ in the farming community of Michigan, N.D.
        “He went on to develop his own water pump to drain the sloughs on his 3,600 acres of land.  Without special pumping equipment, the area was just ‘potholes and wasted land.’  But after drainage, an extra 120 acres were available for farming.
        “When Shirek started growing sunflower in 1975, he quickly recognized the value of the crop.  After one year’s experience with flowers, he seeded 1,000 acres — more than anyone else in the area.  He also invented his own floating sunflower pans, designed to pick up downed flowers and cut off the stalks with a sickle bar.
        “As result of his ingenuity, Sonny started his own business as an  adjunct to his farming operation, currently employing five men full time in a mechanics shop right on the farm.  The business, called SSR Pump Co., cranks out auxiliary fuel tanks and bin buildings, in addition to the water pumps and sunflower pans which ‘got it off the ground.’
        “Though Shirek has cut back somewhat on his sunflower acreage — he grew 800 acres this year — he still feels the crop has tremendous potential despite some of the problems he’s encountered.  ‘Blackbirds, weed pressure and the prairie winds are probably our worst problems in this area,’ states Shirek, who also grows wheat, barley, oats, corn and soybeans. . . .
        “However he goes in and out of other crops, Shirek plans to grow sunflower for quite a while.  ‘Someone’s got to use all those sunflower pans I’m making,’ he jokes.”
        Duluth/Superior Statistics — “Duluth/Superior port elevators received 54,573 metric tons of sunflower seed and shipped out 95,315 metric tons during the month of July.  These figures were well below those of July of 1980, when 172,357 tons were taken in and 151,101 tons shipped out.
        “For the first seven months of 1981, port elevators received a total of 465,298 metric tons of sunflower seed and shipped out 560,284 tons.  The corresponding figures for 1980 were 636,532 and 629,537, respectively.
          “Elevators in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Red Wing, sites of major crushing facilities, took in 211,888 metric tons of sunflower seed during the first seven months of 1981, compared with 157,697 during the same period in 1980.”
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