No-Till 'Flowers Following Corn
In an area where sunflower typically follows a small grain crop such as wheat or barley, John and Mark Schmidt have taken a decidedly different approach — and it’s working.
The Schmidt brothers, who farm near the south central North Dakota community of Hazelton, have planted no-till sunflower into no-till corn ground for the past two years. The success of sunflower’s insertion into their regimen is exemplified by the 160-acre field where the above photo was taken last fall. That no-till field, which produced 89-bushel corn in 1995 (well above the Emmons County average), yielded 2,170 pounds of sunflower seed the following year.
The Schmidts weren’t sure what to expect during the winter of 1994/95 when they decided to move back into sunflower production after more than a decade’s absence. They just knew they needed a broadleaf crop to help break up disease cycles (i.e., scab) brought on by the Fusarium fungus in their corn and cereal grains. A broadleaf also would help achieve, they believed, better control of wild oat and yellow foxtail weed populations in their grains.
With cropping alternatives sharply limited in their area, the Schmidts opted to toss sunflower’s hat back in the ring.
Not all of the Schmidts’ 500 sunflower acres in 1996 were planted on corn ground; actually, about 70 percent went on wheat stubble. But as in 1995, the sunflower-on-corn yielded better than sunflower after wheat. (That result could be different with future crops, depending upon moisture retention and rainfall patterns, John adds.)
At seeding, the Schmidts offset their 30-inch-spaced sunflower rows a few inches from the preceding year’s corn rows. They run a John Deere 7000 MaxEmerge equipped with trash whippers, seed-firming wheels and the May-Wes star-style plastic closing wheels. Along with applying starter fertilizer at planting, an anhydrous tank trails the MaxEmerge. They’ve typically been adding between 80 to 100 units of nitrogen per acre. In addition to nitrogen, phosphorus and potash, the starter blend usually includes a small amount of sulfur, depending upon soil test readings.
“It’s basically a one-pass operation,” John says of their planting/fertilization. “The next pass is with the sprayer (applying Ultima 160 or Poast for postemergence grass control), and that’s it until harvest.”
As in any rotation, the Schmidts’ sunflower weed control has its beginnings in the preceding crop. They’ve used Accent in their corn without injury to the next year’s sunflower. “We’ve had excellent weed control in the corn, so that’s made it a lot easier in the ’flowers,” John relates.
Sonalan granules, applied at the high-end rate, have comprised the cornerstone treatment for the no-till sunflower. They’ll spread the granules in the fall, allowing winter snows and spring moisture to incorporate them. A spring Roundup burndown completes the preplant program.
In a new twist for 1997, the Schmidts plan to solid seed a portion of their no-till ’flower acreage utilizing either a leased John Deere 750 No-Till drill (with single-disk blade openers and a half-speed drive kit) or a JD 1850. They’ll plant in 7.5-inch rows, hiking the seed drop by 15-20 percent over their conventional row population of 22,000; count on their preplant herbicide and the sunflower plant canopy for weed suppression; and then compare the two systems’ results next fall.
“We’ve been stepping into this sunflower-after-corn rotation cautiously,” John reports. “We’re not taking all our corn acres and putting them into no-till ’flowers; but I think the majority of them are going that way.” — Don Lilleboe
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