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NSA 2022 Research Priorities

Tuesday, October 26, 2021
filed under: Research and Development

By John Sandbakken*
hanging sf head
Photo credit: Don Lilleboe
        `Is agricultural research important?  Do my checkoff dollars make a difference?’ The answers to these questions are easy: you better believe it! 
        Agricultural research is critically important in that it is the only way to find ways to combat new strains of fungi, bacteria, weeds, insects and other pests that can destroy crops.  It is also the only way to find new varieties of crops which we hope will yield better, be more disease resistant and more drought tolerant.  Without agricultural research, we have virtually no hope of feeding the expected nine billion people on the planet by 2050.
        According to Tom Kirkmeyer, National Sunflower Association vice president and Brighton, Colo., producer, “Research is paramount to the sunflower industry.”  Since its inception, the NSA has committed itself to providing funds to researchers to stimulate new — or continue with ongoing — sunflower research that may result in lower production costs, increased quality and higher yields. 
        “This commitment to research resulted in the development of NuSun® sunflower; and we would not have Clearfield® or Express® ’flowers without it,” adds Kirkmeyer.  Many of the crop protection and pest management tools and production practices used today were the result of NSA-funded research.
How Is Research Funded?
        NSA research is mainly funded with checkoff monies from Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.  The sunflower industry also pitches in to increase the number and amount of financial resources.  The NSA Confection and High Plains committees contribute a portion of their funds to research projects.  These committee funds come from sunflower industry members not included in the checkoff.
        “I have always considered funding research as the most important thing we can do with our checkoff dollars,” says Myron Dieterle, NSA board member and Kief, N.D., producer.  “NSA is always looking for any new innovations and or products that will make a difference in the bottom line for producers and the sunflower industry.”
researchers in field
Brent Hulke (right), USDA sunflower research geneticist, discusses the work going on at the ARS research site
near Glyndon, Minn., during a September visit by members of the Minnesota Sunflower Council.

How Are Research Projects Chosen?
        To help prioritize research areas, the NSA has a research committee made up of researchers, industry leaders and sunflower producers representing all major sunflower states.  The committee met in early September to set research priorities for the upcoming year.  After priorities were set, requests for pre-proposals were sent to researchers across the country. Having pre-proposals helps NSA prioritize which proposals move on to the full proposal phase.
        After full proposals are received, the committee will meet in early January to review the submitted proposals and score them based on scientific merit and cost. Using a score of 1, 3 or 5, with 5 being the highest, each committee member gives each proposal two scores:  one for scientific merit and one for cost. The scores are added together and averaged to get a composite score.
        “This system has been in place for many years as it seems to be the best method to evaluate and recommend the best research projects to fund in the most impartial way,” says Lance Hourigan, Lemmon, S.D., producer and current NSA president.  “It allows me and fellow NSA board members to make wise funding decisions based on the composite score each proposal receives.”
        Resolving Sclerotinia continues to be a high priority. Grant requests for this disease are directed to the National Sclerotinia Initiative. There is a concentrated research effort in this disease from wild accessions to fungicide trials and everything in between. NSA is a leader in urging researchers to consider additional or new directions in Sclerotinia sunflower research to find a solution for this disease.
        The list below specifies ‘areas of interest’ outlined by the NSA Research Committee. This is not an exclusive list, and the committee will consider all production areas of research.
Research Areas of Interest
(Not listed in order of priority.)
Production Issues —
        1.  Improved genetic progress in sunflower is the #1 production priority for the National Sunflower Association in order to enhance competitiveness with other crops and stability of yield and quality using genomic tools.
        2.  Blackbirds: Innovative and new approaches to reduce damage, especially discovery of repellents and or changes to plant physical characteristics.
        3.  Factors related to optimizing yield.  This could include early season sunflower plant screening for stand, seeding depth, seed-to-soil closure and contact, variable seeding rates, soil temperature/moisture, seed dormancy and seedling vigor. 
        4.  Development of new genetic screening and management strategies to address emerging soil issues such as tolerance to saline/sodic soils and possible effects of low pH soils.
        5.  Adaptation of sunflower as a stable and resilient cropping alternative in view of climate change and variability.
Insects —
        1.  Evaluation of IPM strategies (scouting, trapping, thresholds, insecticide testing [especially new modes of action], cultural, biological) for control of economically important insect pests of sunflower, including: sunflower head moth, banded sunflower moth, red sunflower seed weevil, Lygus bug, Dectes stem borer, wireworm and others.
        2.  Screen suspected insecticide resistance for economically important insect pests of sunflower.
        3.  Screen hybrid and breeding material for insect resistance.
        4.  Study direct and secondary benefits of pollinators, including honeybees and native bees, in sunflower production.
        5.  Determine the economic costs and benefits of using pesticide seed treatments and application innovations to control wireworms and cutworms.
Weeds —
        1.  Innovative weed control strategies using existing and experimental chemistries to address Palmer amaranth, horseweed (marestail), ragweed, waterhemp, barnyard grass and glyphosate-resistant kochia, pre/burndown and/or post emerge, and/or fall timing and demonstration.
        2.  Encourage research for new desiccant active ingredients.
        3.  Weed species shifts, due to resistance/tolerance to common modes of action, need to be considered for burndown uses, as well as existing post systems like Clearfield® and Express®Sun. 
        4.  Define herbicide sunflower safe planting intervals, even during a drought. Preservation and MOA resistance management for the post-emerge Group #1 grass products.  Group #1 additive strategies might include preplant, pre- (and/or) early post application of non-group #1 MOAs.  Foxtail, brome species and non-Group #1 wild oat options need to be better defined and demonstrated for sunflower producers.
        5.  Use of weed seed-free cover crops for potential sunflower application. 
        6.  Group 15 efficacy demonstrations, including improving pigweed and grass species control and how mode of actions used in sunflower can benefit rotation crops such as wheat and corn.
Diseases —
        1.  Phomopsis stem canker is the #1 disease priority for the National Sunflower Association.  Proposals aimed at improving (or leading to the improvement of) disease management tools are strongly encouraged.  Recommendations include, but are not limited to:
        •  Epidemiology, biology and etiology of pathogen(s).
        •  Fungicides or biological control.
        •  Genetics of the pathogen and/or host leading to host resistance.
        •  A better understanding of the economic impact of the disease.
        2.  Rust, including identifying races and the control of rust via genetic resistance and fungicide application.
        3.  There is continued interest in downy mildew with the development of new races and fungicide efficacy.  Proposals looking at genetic resistance, along with seed treatments with multiple modes of action, will be of interest.
        4.  Rhizopus can be a concern after the head is damaged by insects, hail or other stresses.  Determining if there are management or mitigating strategies to reduce the impact of the disease is important for growers.
        5.  Address emerging, economically important diseases affecting sunflower production through diagnosis and development of management strategies.
        6.  Sclerotinia proposals should be directed to the National Sclerotinia Initiative.
Product Utilization —
        1.  Looking for novel compounds in seed that have intrinsic values, including nutrition alternatives.
        Those who would like to hear more about what is happening in sunflower research should consider attend the annual NSA Sunflower Research Forum. The purpose of the Forum is to report on research, to promote discussion, and to stimulate creative thinking. The 2022 Sunflower Research Forum will take place at the Holiday Inn in Fargo, N.D.  It is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 12, and conclude at noon on Thursday the 13th. Use this link to get more details:
        Should you not be able to make it to the Forum, you can learn more about NSA-funded research projects by visiting  There you’ll find an online searchable database covering more than 30 years of sunflower research papers.
* John Sandbakken is executive director of the National Sunflower Association.

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