Malatya Haber Sunflower Showcase focuses on production and management advice
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Sunflower Showcase focuses on production and management advice

By Jennifer M. Latzke

DOUBLE CROPPING—Sunflowers grow in a field of wheat stubble just outside of Ulysses, Kan. For many southwest Kansas farmers, a rotation of wheat followed by sunflowers improves water use efficiency in their fields.

Farmers from five states came together at the 2012 Sunflower Showcase Aug. 21 in Ulysses, Kan. Hosted by Kansas State University and the High Plains National Sunflower Association, the event offered producers the opportunity to tour fields in the Ulysses area and swap information on the successful production and management of the crop.

The morning plot tours, led by Ron Meyer of Colorado State University and Calvin Trostle of Texas A&M University, took the group around to several sunflower fields in a couple of southwestern Kansas counties.

At an irrigated field south of Ulysses, the tour saw an example of the 678 Triumph short stature sunflower hybrid. Short stature hybrids tolerate windy conditions better, which is handy for the High Plains.

Grant County Ag and Natural Resources Extension Agent Joe Leibbrandt explained the farmer prefers a sunflower-wheat rotation because both crops handle stress better, especially on an irrigation well that's pumping 600 gallons per minute.

Trostle showed the visitors an example of a sunflower head moth and emphasized growers must eradicate this yield-stealing pest.

"I say the sunflower head moth is the boll weevil of sunflowers," Trostle said. "They're different, of course, but we must eradicate them like we did with the boll weevil in cotton country." The time to spray for head moths is when they're seen in the field.

"The threshold for spraying is traditionally if you see one to two moths for every five heads," Trostle said. However, if a farmer sees them flying in the evenings when he checks fields, it's a sign that he should spray, and Texas AgriLife Extension researchers in Amarillo have re-worded their guidelines to reflect that, Trostle explained.

However, producers must plan ahead for their spraying needs, and that means talking to their crop dusting pilots to have the right chemicals on hand when they're needed, Trostle added. And be sure that your pilot is applying the right chemical at the right rate with the plane, Trostle said.

In this particular field the tour saw some unevenness, likely the result of two rows of a planter calibrated at a different depth than the others. Meyer said seeding depth and the presence of moisture at planting are all important for emergence. "The ideal seeding rate is two inches, and this was seeded at 2.5 inches because of drought," he said. "Research has shown that seeding at 4 inches reduces stands by 30 percent. So, if you have to plant into dry conditions, bump up that seeding rate by 20 percent." Even better is to pre-irrigate the field before planting, which prevents crusting in the field that can affect emergence, he added. And, smaller seeds, whether they're oilseeds or confectionary, always get better stands because it takes less moisture to start the germination process.

In another field, farther south, the tour saw sunflowers planted in wheat stubble. Leibbrandt said this farmer uses sunflowers not so much for yields as it is to improve his soils. "He makes at least 1,500 pounds, but he's not pre-watering here," he said. Instead, the field got about .80 inches right at planting in rainfall, and once the flowers get to a decent stage of growth, he'll water the field.

Sunflower's water efficiency is well known among producers and researchers, and in this time of lowering aquifer levels up and down the High Plains that is beneficial, Meyer and Trostle explained.

"We can find roots at up to six feet deep, sunflowers will pick up moisture and fertilizer other crops can't get to," Meyer said. "Flowers take seven inches of moisture to get to seed production, compared to wheat that has to have five inches to get to production." At 400 gallons per minute on poorer wells, there's trouble for corn if it doesn't rain. "Farmers can take half of a field, and concentrate their irrigation there," he added.

Fortunately for today's farmers, we now have equipment that allows us to better no-till plant sunflowers into wheat stubble, Meyer added. "We can till less, save that water and wind erosion, and capture snow in winter," he said. "And, that's money in the bank to you guys."

After lunch, John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association, updated producers on the state of the industry. With a rising trend in eliminating trans fats in diets, sunflower oil is rising in popularity. Sunflower oil has stability and shelf life of other products, but also has an acceptable flavor to the palette, Sandbakken said. NSA President Tom Young, Onida, S.D., followed with an update on the association's activities on behalf of producers.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or

Date: 10/1/2012


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