While sunflowers often pencil out well, concerns about quality and yield risk at the end of the year are all-too-common when it comes to growing them.
“It’s a high value crop and if you treat it that way, it’s going to pay,” says Troy Turner, agronomist for the National Sunflower Association of Canada, in the video below, filmed at CropConnect in Winnipeg in February.
Trouble with quality and yield loss at the end of the season — whether it’s frost, bird predation, lodging or head rot — is often linked to planting dates and steps taken in spring, he explains. Sunflowers should not be seeded late, which means a grower might have to interrupt seeding a different crop. Optimal germination and emergence of plants occurs at 10 degrees C at the planting depth (1.5 to 2.5 inches).
“Make sure you’re concentrating on your planting dates, your populations and your equipment — that it’s set up and running properly,” he says.
The difference between planting during the first week of May versus the first week of June becomes very noticeable in fall, says Turner: “If you’re harvesting late — into late October or November, chances of you losing yield and grade are much, much higher than if you’re harvesting at the end of September, first week of October.”
Planting populations and crop rotation are also critical considerations for minimizing disease pressure, he explains. Overpopulation will bring on disease, while crowded plants will also produce smaller heads and smaller seeds, which are not wanted in confectionary markets.
As with seeding, sunflowers should be harvested when ready, not after all the soybeans or another crop are off, says Turner.
“The old saying was ‘we can leave those out there and harvest them in December.’ And we scratch our heads on that now,” he says. “We’re trying to change that flawed thinking about it. It’s not a crop you want to leave out there.”
According to Statistics Canada, 100 thousand acres of sunflowers were seeded in 2015 — mainly in Manitoba. Turner says they’re anticipating a slight decline in 2016.
NSAC agronomist Troy Turner, together with Anastasia Kubinec of MAFRD and NuSeed’s Fred Parnow, discussed five management practices for growers to “Make the Grade for Sunflowers” at CropConnect (read more detail here):
- Ideal Planting Time — late planting increases risk of grade and yield losses in fall.
- Plant Populations — Parnow suggests the general rule of thumb is to plant 10% higher population than your desired harvest stand. Getting the right plant population is especially important for confectionary growers, as it will ensure the highest percentage of large seed.
- Pest Management — take steps to manage weeds, insects and disease. A rotation of at least 1-in-4 sclerotinia-susceptible crops is recommended (that includes canola, soybeans and edible beans.)
- Desiccation — a properly timed application can speed up the time to harvest while reducing the chance of shatter loss, bird predation and disease losses.
- Harvest Timing — growers deciding which crop to harvest first must consider the opportunity cost of losing quality on their sunflower seeds versus other crop types.