To help Bootheel producers meet potential marketing opportunities, Eddie Adams is putting more variety into variety testing.
Besides testing nearly 300 lines of soybeans, corn and other standard row crops, he is experimenting with commodities less common in Missouri.
Adams, research specialist for the variety-testing program at University of Missouri Delta Research Center, is testing alternative crops that could help Southeast Missouri farmers reap maximum profits in expanding regional markets.
"We should take advantage of any economic opportunity that presents itself here in the Missouri Bootheel," Adams said. "The farmers will fill any profitable niches created in this region, and we want to find out the potential of some of these alternative crops."
Working with the Jefferson Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable alternative agriculture, Adams is testing 10 new sunflower varieties to see which are best adapted to Southeast Missouri.
"Proctor & Gamble has a large potato chip factory over the border in Tennessee," Jefferson Institute director Rob Myers said. "They make Pringles potato chips using cottonseed oil, and they've publicly announced they're switching to sunflower oil."
Myers said the firm has expressed strong interest in buying sunflower oil from the nearby Bootheel, and "a cottonseed crusher down in Arkansas is interested in crushing sunflowers for that plant."
Adams is testing several varieties of a new sunflower line called NuSun, which contains high levels of oleic acid and does not require hydrogenation.
Those varieties carry a premium over conventional sunflower varieties, Myers said. "It's a crop that could really lend itself to a farmer-owned co-op somewhere down the road."
Adams also hopes to determine optimum planting and harvesting dates for sunflowers in the region. "We want to find out their potential as an alternative to (doublecrop) soybeans behind wheat," he said. "It would help farmers diversify to supplement their commodity crops because (commodity) prices are so bad."
Another marketing opportunity is a birdseed packaging plant planned for Cape Girardeau next year, Myers said. "The company is on track to open up, and they would have about 40,000 acres of contracted crops" in sunflower, millet and sorghum, he said.
In Delta Center plots, Adams is experimenting with several varieties of millet, including peal and foxtail millet in addition to proso, the most commonly used millet for birdseed.
"We're also growing 26 varieties of Canola, looking at it as an alternative to wheat here in the Bootheel," Adams said. "It did well. Our top yields approach 2,000 pounds per acre."
Canola, a source of cooking oil, is generally grown farther north as a spring crop, Adams said. "We're trying to grow it here in the fall, strictly as an alternative to winter wheat. You can get it off your fields a couple of weeks earlier than wheat, late May or early June. That's better for double-cropping with soybeans."
Adams will present the preliminary results of these and other variety tests at the Delta Center Field Day on Aug. 31.