'Flowers Hold Their Own
The outcome of this year’s U.S. sun-flower growing season didn’t quite match its exceptional 1994 counterpart. But in terms of both yield and quality, the ’95 crop’s performance still graded out at above average.
USDA’s preliminary estimate of this year’s U.S. sunflower crop (released October 11) placed total production (oil and confection combined) at nearly 4.6 million tons, down slightly more than five percent from the 1994 production level. Though harvested acreage was slightly higher in ‘95, the difference came in the average projected yield: 1,313 pounds per acre this year versus 1,410 in 1994.
Those figures may change somewhat in the January USDA update. The bottom line is that the 1995 crop was planted very late, and there were early projections of only 50 to 60 percent of the crop being harvested. However, warm temperatures through August helped most of those acres mature.
Wet weather throughout much of the northern area was the single most severe production challenge, and it contributed to weed problems and the outbreak of the disease Phomopsis. Insects were almost nonexistent across the entire sunflower belt, from Texas up through Canada.
Preliminary figures from the National Sunflower Association’s annual crop quality survey of oil-type sunflower suggest an average test weight of 30.14 pounds per bushel in 1995, with a range extending from 35 down to 23 pounds. While below the ’94 level of 30.6 pounds, this year’s test weight is slightly higher than the 1990-94 five-year crop average.
Oil content of this year’s 1,200 samples (drawn mainly from the Northern Plains region) averaged 43.6 percent, down from 1994’s 44.8-percent average. Again, however, the ’95 figure is higher than the 1990-94 average of 42.7 percent. The range of the 1995 samples was from 50.7 percent on the high end down to 30.4 percent on the low side. Average moisture of the 1995 crop samples was 10.05 percent (compared to 9.4 in 1994 and a five-year average of 9.46). Percent foreign material in this year’s samples averaged 4.78, up from 1994’s 4.4-percent figure but very close to the five-year average of 4.72 percent.
Comments from elevator managers and other industry personnel in various growing regions confirm the “up and down, but generally good” nature of the 1995 sunflower season.
Mike Bretz, field manager for Sigco Sun Products at Goodland, Kan., says the pleasant outcome of his region’s confec-tion sunflower crop was surprising, given the year’s weather-generated difficulties (drought stress in portions of northeastern Colorado; plant lodging in northwestern Kansas). “I’d say we had at least an average crop as far as quality,” Bretz reports. Overall seed size may have been down somewhat, but test weights were in the neighborhood of 24-26 pounds — a very good level for High Plains confections. The south central region of Nebraska enjoyed a particularly strong season, with a number of 2,500-pound dryland yields and large seed percentages of 60 to 80, according to Bretz.
A late September snowstorm, followed by extreme winds a week or two later, inflicted significant damage in north-western Kansas and adjacent areas of Colorado. Lodging from the wet, heavy snow was quite damaging to yields. But the biggest culprit was the ensuing high winds, which resulted in added lodging and heavy shatter loss in affected counties.
R.A. True, manager of Goodland-based Mueller Grain Company, agrees the September snows and exceptional autumn winds (as high as 60-70 mph) took a significant toll on final yields in that pocket of the High Plains — a pocket typically producing a sizeable percentage of the region’s entire sunflower crop. “If we’d not had that aggravation of weather problems, [the High Plains] probably would have come out of  with a good average crop,” True remarks. “Though we did have an increase in acres, I doubt our total volume will be much more than last year — if we even get to that [level],” he says.
Heading northward to central South Dakota, Milton Handcock of Midwest Cooperative’s Onida elevator reports a good year for sunflower in his trade area. Handcock estimates his station average yield at between 1,500 to 1,700 pounds per acre. When it came to oil content, “it was almost like two different seasons here,” he notes. Early ’flowers had oils in the 45-percent range, while the later fields were closer to 40-42 percent oil and also had significantly lower test weights.
About 100 miles to the northeast, Gerald Skramstad of the Warner Co-op Elevator says his area enjoyed a good year for all crops. The excessive spring and summer moisture which plagued many northeastern South Dakota farmers this year did not extend into the Warner vicinity. Skramstad says the bulk of sunflower yields in his area ran between 1,500 to 1,800 pounds per acre, with a few above a ton. Oils averaged 43 percent.
“We had a good crop in our immediate trade area,” reports John Cisinski, manager of the Berlin Farmers Elevator, located in southeastern North Dakota’s LaMoure County. An abnormally wet spring to the west of the Berlin area hampered planting, however, and that outlying sunflower crop lagged behind all season.
Cisinski says sunflower yields in the Berlin vicinity averaged in the mid-teens, ranging from 1,100 pounds up toward a ton per acre. Test weights and oils were generally quite satisfactory.
About 100 miles to the north, Randy Habeck of the Barlow Grain & Stock Exchange reports a wide variance in sunflower yields this year: all the way from 400 pounds per acre up to 1,800 pounds. “Where you didn’t have water pressure, you had good yields,” he says. Habeck estimates about a fourth of the fields in his Foster County area had problems reaching maturity in 1995. A wet spring delayed many plantings, and then continued wet and cool conditions slowed crop development. Low spots were drowned out in a number of fields.
Habeck, whose sunflower handle is split roughly half and half between confections and oil types, says the area’s confection fields generally came through 1995 in better shape than the oils due to being planted earlier. Insect pressure was virtually nil this year, he adds.
Ron Killoran of Buffalo Farm Supply in Cass County, N.D., says his area enjoyed an “average to above average” sunflower season. Yields generally ran between 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per acre, with oils averaging in the mid-40s. “Water was probably the biggest problem,” he remarks, referring to moisture-logged low spots in some fields.
Across the border and to the north in Minnesota, Jim Tholund says farmers in his area had their share of problems in 1995. Tholund, who manages several facilities for Mahnomen Farmers Co-op Grain, says extended wet weather, coupled with subsequent disease and lodging problems, took their toll on many sunflower fields. “Some of our yields were as low as 600 to 700 pounds; some up around 1,800. On average, I’d say most of it ran around 1,200,” Tholund indicates. A 1,200-pound yield is several hundred pounds below what’s typically considered an “average” sunflower crop for that area of northwestern Minnesota. Most of the poorer yields came from areas north of Mahnomen, he adds.
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