Keys to a successful sunflower crop
Tom Young, Onida, S.D., is an old hand at growing sunflowers. The former National Sunflower Association president got interested in sunflowers when his father began growing them in 1974. Today, Young grows sunflowers in a four-year rotation with corn, grain sorghum, winter and spring wheat. He no-tills and uses cover crops. No-till conserves soil moisture and builds soil quality, two key components of successful sunflower yields, Young says.
“I used conventional tillage to kill weeds and save moisture,” Young says. “But I think I was drying out surface soil so much the weeds couldn’t grow. When Spartan (Authority) and Roundup Ready corn were introduced, herbicidal weed control became much more effective. I started using no-till practices, and that’s when my sunflower yields began climbing.”
Young follows corn with sunflower and plants sunflower seed between the 30-inch corn rows.
“We try to have all the sunflowers in by June 20,” Young says. “That allows us to avoid having sunflowers pollinate during the hottest part of August. If we have five days of 100+ degree F heat in August, sunflower blooms won’t handle that.”
Young applies about 4 gallons of 10-34-0 at planting and uses 15 gallons of 28-0-0 with herbicides. A preapplication of Spartan provides residual weed control. A glyphosate product is used to burn down preemerged weeds.
For effective weed control, Young recommends making chemical rotation a priority. For the preplant burndown, Young alternates between glyphosate and other products.
“Do your soil tests, and make sure you have 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen available,” Young says. “But push your sunflowers to go deeper. Because sunflower roots go so deep, we’re finding we’re using moisture and nutrients that got away from other crops.”
Later planting allows Young to escape some insect pressure.
“Scout your fields for insects rather than just scheduling spraying,” Young says. “You’re killing beneficial insects along with the pests, so use sprays carefully.”
Young looks for ways to manage the rotation to help sunflowers.
“We realized that cheatgrass was getting a head start because of our late-planting strategy. Now we do a cheatgrass burndown in April, once snowmelt is gone. Clean corn helps set up clean sunflowers, too.”
Some growers are concerned about low residue from sunflowers following corn. Young plants spring wheat and winter wheat behind sunflowers. Residue may be a little skimpy, but Young expects cover crops to help remedy that.
“Manage sunflowers like a crop, not like a scavenger,” Young says. “We’ve been rethinking our entire crop management process. Sunflowers are one of the best cash crops going.”
Getting the most from sunflowers is a matter of planning and management, he says.
Sorensen is from Yankton, S.D.
YIELD KEYS: Tom Young inspects sunflowers on his central South Dakota farm. Switching to no-till helped increase sunflower yields.
This article published in the February, 2013 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.