How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Sunflower Crop

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Sunflower Crop
Mark Torno
Diverse Field Crops Product Manager Wheat, Canola, Sunflower
Garrison, ND
Thanks to strong demand, sunflower continues to offer farmers one of the best revenue opportunities of any crop in the northern states. Whether you’re an experienced sunflower producer, just starting off, or somewhere in between, there are a number of things I like to remind growers about before they plant their crop. There are both opportunities to take advantage of and concerns to be wary of in order to optimize yield potential and profit potential.
Rotational Benefits
Crop rotation is one of the first things I encourage farmers to consider when planting sunflower. Strategically positioning this native plant is essential for optimizing yield potential because it can help break disease, insect and weed pressure cycles. Here are a few examples:
  • Planting sunflower after wheat can decrease the presence of diseases like tan spot and Septoria leaf spot in a future wheat crop.
  • Planting sunflower in place of corn or soybeans can help manage corn rootworm and soybean cyst nematode populations.
  • Rotating in sunflower can help prevent glyphosate resistance and keep the herbicide as a viable solution for use on corn and soybean acres.
Sunflower should not be planted in the same field more than once every three to four years because of its high susceptibility to Sclerotinia (white mold). Since it’s a broadleaf plant, we tend to recommend rotating sunflower with small grains or corn before soybeans to get the most value out of the rotation.
Desired Market
An important factor to consider when selecting a sunflower hybrid is the market you are pursuing. The crop has become a market segmented by grain uses, and any one hybrid might fit one or more market options. It used to be typical for farmers to focus on the same market year after year, but with the shift to high oleic, producers have considered different options in recent years. Sunflower markets include high oleic, NuSun®, dehulling and birdseed.
Consider Moisture Conditions
Sunflower’s deep tap root enables it to access the moisture and nitrogen (N) located deeper in the soil profile, so it still has the potential to perform well and be a profitable crop in a dry growing season. That being said, it also has a tendency to deplete the moisture from the soil profile in a dry season. So sunflower production can end up reducing the yield potential of wheat and other subsequent crops if that moisture isn’t replaced and dry conditions persist the following season. The impact can vary, but wheat yield reductions of 10 bu/A or more aren’t out of the ordinary in this case.
Beware of Birds
Be sure to consider the surrounding environment when determining where to position your sunflower crop. For example, if you put an 80-acre sunflower field next to a cattail slough where blackbirds roost, feeding damage will be likely to occur as the crop matures and seed is formed.
Harvest Timing
When deciding on when to plant your sunflower crop, consider how it will fit with the timing of crops you’ve planted in other fields. Sunflowers can help you better distribute labor and machinery so you can spray and harvest crops at different times.
Access to Storage
Crushing plants require a steady seed supply since the food industry needs a year-round supply of oil. So sometimes sunflower seed requires longer storage than traditional crops like wheat and soybeans. Premiums are offered to farmers for storing their seed during the out-of-harvest months and delivering it to crushing plants within a specified time window. Not everyone is able to take advantage of them because they need the capacity to store their seed and maintain its quality during storage. If you don’t have adequate storage on your farm, be sure to acquire off-farm storage well in advance of harvest.
Thirsty for more sunflower-related tips? Reach out to your locally owned and operated WinField United retailer.
© 2020 WinField United. Important: Before use always read and follow label instructions. Crop performance is dependent on several factors many of which are beyond the control of WinField United, including without limitation, soil type, pest pressures, agronomic practices, and weather conditions. Growers are encouraged to consider data from multiple locations, over multiple years, and be mindful of how such agronomic conditions could impact results. WinField® is a trademark of WinField United. NuSun® is a registered trademark of the National Sunflower Association.