Ask Monty Cronin about the keys to his no-till sunflower program’s productivity, and the first word that comes across is “sanitation.”
No, this Gettysburg, S.D., producer is not obsessed with operating within a germ-free environment. But he and brother Mike are adamant about the importance of growing sunflower in fields which are as weed-free as possible. That diligence is paying dividends to the tune of dryland yields which have averaged more than a ton per acre over the past several years, highlighted by 1996’s 2,400-pound output.
Most of the Cronin sunflower acreage follows winter wheat. Right after wheat harvest, they’ll treat with Roundup, adding 2,4-D to the mixture if there’s significant broadleaf pressure. They also won’t hesitate to apply a second fall burndown should weed populations warrant. “If it greens up again by the first of September, we’re back spraying,” Monty affirms.
Come spring, “we put Prowl down as soon as we can get out there” in order to catch spring rains for incorporation, Cronin explains. Roundup in the mix takes care of any volunteer wheat and other weeds not controlled by the Prowl. “Another thing I like about Prowl in the rotation with ’flowers is it virtually eliminates our pigeongrass problem the next year in spring wheat,” he says.
The Cronins run Yetter residue managers on their JD MaxEmerge. “But we don’t get aggressive with our trash whips,” Monty explains, “because the Prowl is on and we don’t want to move it. So we basically just ‘tickle’ the straw out of the way.”
Vigilant early season monitoring of the fields is followed, if justified, by application of a light rate of Poast to clean up any grass infestations. The Cronins count on the ensuing sunflower plant canopy and remaining wheat surface residue to suppress late-emerging escapes.
A late-season visit to the Cronins’ central South Dakota sunflower fields (see accompanying photo) attests to the effectiveness of their multi-faceted weed control program. “The proof comes after harvest,” Monty says. “If we can drive by a field after harvest and not see any weeds out there, we know we did a good job.”
This ardent commitment to clean fields has carried a hefty herbicide price tag — but they have no doubts about the value of the investment. “When we started no-till, we knew we had to stay clean if we were going to do a good job,” Monty recounts. The first few years were anxious times “because it seems all you do is pay chemical bills,” he admits.
But the herbicide expense has been dropping in concert with declining weed seed numbers as that population has moved progressively closer to the surface of the untilled fields. “We compare our chemical bills for the past four or five years, and they’ve been getting smaller each year,” Monty notes.
“I don’t consider a $3.00 or $5.00 burnoff a big deal compared to going in later with high-dollar rescue treatments,” the South Dakotan adds. “That second burnoff in the fall can be a ‘pain,’ but it’s not a lot of money. If you have your own sprayer, you’re cleaning up everything for $3.00 an acre.” — Don Lilleboe
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