Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sunflower Problems In Kansas

From The Pratt Tribune:

Wild sunflowers have done well this year but their crop counterpart in Pratt County has taken a hard hit from stem borers.

Unlike the state flower that grows wild just about everywhere in the county, crop sunflowers are in just a handful of fields and one farmer, Gary Watson, is getting ready to bring in a harvest that was badly stunted by stem borers.

These pests migrate from soybeans and it’s easy to see which plants have been affected. The plants have turned completely brown and are drying out fast while the healthy plants still have color in their stems. The brown plants will produce few if any seeds and substantially reduce the potential yield.

With harvest just a couple of weeks away Watson is considering not planting sunflowers in 2009. The 180 acres he has this year have not fared well and he is looking at a poor harvest.
“They’re not going to yield too good this year,” Watson said.

Some spots in the field were not hit as hard as others and will still produce a big head of sunflower seeds. The affected heads look good for a while but a lot of effected heads are blank.

Sunflowers are marketed by the hundredweight. In a good year dry land sunflowers can yield from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds per acre while irrigated land can produce from 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per hundredweight. The Tuesday market for sunflowers ranged from $21.90 to $22.60 per hundredweight while the Farm Service Agency PCP price for Tuesday was $22.09 per hundredweight.

Sunflowers provide a good bridge for double cropping and farmers don’t have to summer fallow the ground. They are planted from late April up to early July. Harvest is mid September on the early planting and the crop can go back to wheat if there is enough moisture, Watson said.

Watson plants no-till. Sunflowers have a broadleaf that makes them difficult to cultivate so the plants are sprayed to control pests, diseases and weeds. Weeds have to be sprayed pre emergence while pests are sprayed from an airplane.

One field is particularly weedy because Watson was unable to get it planted soon enough after it was sprayed.

The head moth is a common pest but has done little this year because Watson got a good kill on them. Watson has his own spraying equipment but hires out a plane for head moth.

The big problem has been stem borers that enter the stem, devour the pith and kill the plant.

Sunflowers are planted with a corn planter on 30-inch rows. They are harvested with the same row head used for soybeans or milo. A wheat header can be used with the addition of pans on the platform.

Sunflowers are susceptible to a mosaic disease and insurance companies won’t insure a field that has been planted to sunflowers two years in a row because of mosaic that takes seven to eight years to eliminate once it is established in a field.

“Sunflowers have to be rotated,” Watson said.

Two types of sunflowers are grown as crops. The oil variety that Watson grows is used for cooking oil. Sunflower oil is lower in saturated fats than other vegetable oils and is highly sought, Watson said.

The other commercial type is a confection sunflower that are used for the popular sunflower seeds that are packaged and ready to eat.

Watson has grown sunflowers off and on for 10 of the last 15 years. He takes the seeds to the Kanza Co-op for shipping to a sunflower processing plant in Goodland or the co-op will sell them to birdseed manufacturers.

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