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Six Years of No-Till Lessons

Monday, December 1, 1997
filed under: Minimum Till/No-Till

Monty and Mike Cronin raised their first sunflower crop in 1979 — and then closed the door on ’flowers until 1992. Drying both dryland sunflower and irrigated corn crops that fall created a lot more aggravation than they cared to endure, so sunflower went by the wayside for more than a decade.

By the early ’90s, however, the Cronin brothers were well on their way to converting his entire farm to no-till. They brought sunflower back into the rotation in ’92, planting half conventionally and the other half under no-till — with the no-till crop out-yielding the conventional ’flowers. “We were switching over to no-till anyway, so we decided if we couldn’t raise them under no-till, we wouldn’t raise them at all,” Monty recalls. As of 1993, the entire Cronin farm — sunflower included — was in no-till.

What have the past six seasons taught these Potter County, S.D., growers about raising a successful no-till sunflower crop? Monty lists these observations:

• Don’t sell rotation short. The Cronins prefer a five-year rotation; four at a minimum. Disease problems have been minimal in their sunflower thus far, and they want to keep it that way. The sunflower crop is preceded by winter wheat and followed by spring wheat. Then it’s back to winter wheat, followed by corn. Another wheat crop is normally grown before sunflower comes back into the rotation, although the Cronins have produced ’flowers on no-till corn ground.

“Follow a crop where you have a lot of residue to help save your moisture,” Monty advises prospective no-till sunflower producers. “I like following winter wheat because there’s more stubble than with our spring wheat.”

Wheat results following sunflower have been a pleasant discovery for the Cronins. “We’re having some of our better spring wheat yields following ’flowers,” Monty reports. He believes at least part of the reason is due to the sunflower root system’s aiding both moisture infiltration and soil mellowing.

• Go in on clean fields. “Sanitation is first and foremost, as far as I’m concerned,” Monty says. “You can’t raise both weeds and a crop.

“Don’t hesitate to go back in and clean it up, because there isn’t any one chemical that’s 100-percent effective,” he adds. “You have to be prepared — before the sunflower shades the rows — to get anything that’s out there. If you can clean up the field prior to shading, you know you’ll be clean in the fall.”

Vigilance isn’t an option in his book; it’s essential. Monty extends much of the credit for staying atop the farm’s weed situation to employee Dan Forgey, who normally operates the sprayer. “He does a super job of identifying the problem and then going out and treating it,” Cronin emphasizes.

• Wide rows and no-till don’t mix. Whereas some South Dakota sunflower fields are still planted in 38-inch row widths, “I think having 30-inch rows or narrower is important,” Monty states. “You have to be able to shade the rows, and 38s don’t cut it.”

• Don’t short-change the fertility. “We have our yield goal at a ton-plus, and we fertilize accordingly,” he relates. They always soil test their sunflower ground and fertilize on the standard recommended basis of five pounds of available nitrogen per 100 pounds of projected yield. It’s applied 2x2 behind a single-disk trash-cutting fertilizer coulter. - Don Lilleboe M

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