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Sunflower on Corn Ground, A Dry Season Success Story

Sunday, February 1, 1998
filed under: Rotation

It’s still relatively small; but the percentage of North Dakota producers planting sunflower following corn has been increasing in recent years as corn acreage has moved north and west, and as individual growers discover new ways to manage moisture and control weeds in their ’flowers.

William Smith is one of those who is making a corn/sunflower tandem work in his rotation. The Sheyenne, N.D., grower, who was chosen as his state’s Jaycee “Outstanding Young Farmer” in 1997, planted his first sunflower-following-corn acreage this past season — and was very pleased by the outcome. He averaged 1,900 pounds across the 60-acre field — and that on less than five inches of seasonal precipitation through the seed fill period. Four of those inches arrived in a single rainfall when the ’flowers were about a foot tall.

Smith and his wife, Karen, raise feeder pigs, Polled Herefords and commercial stock cows in addition to farming 800 acres of Eddy County cropland, much of which is classified as highly erodible. They’ve effectively traveled the route toward minimum tillage, but have done so without a large investment in new equipment. Smith equipped his four-row Kinze finger planter with residue-cutting coulters, dry fertilizer coulters, granular herbicide applicators and row cleaners which he designed and built himself. That combination allows him to plant into a variety of residue conditions.

Smith also modified an old John Deere four-row cultivator so it would perform effectively under high-residue situations. The unit carries 20-inch smooth coulters, with extended gangs to facilitate trash flow without plugging.

Given the dry spring in his area, Smith’s 1997 sunflower crop needed good soil moisture for a strong start. Fortunately, the corn residue helped provide just that. “Wherever there was some of that trash on top, we had nice moisture,” he recounts.

Smith went with a higher-end rate (12 pounds) of granular Sonalan, applied via a Terragator with just enough 10-50-0 to spread the herbicide. On that part of the field where the corn residue was heaviest, Smith incorporated the Sonalan with a disk. He used his field cultivator across the remaining acreage.

He deep-banded his fertilizer to a five-inch depth at planting, applying 60 pounds of urea and another 60 pounds of 18-46-0. Smith also used a micronutrient package developed by TJ Fertilizer, which he believes contributed to better seed fill in the center of sunflower plant heads and, corresponding, higher yields.

The control supplied by the Sonalan was supplemented with a single culti-vation. That, plus the sunflower plant canopy, resulted in excellent weed control.

Given his 1997 results, William Smith plans to follow corn with sunflower again this year. He’d eventually like to go no-till directly into standing corn stalks, but he’s hesitant to do so until there are more weapons in the sunflower arsenal for postemergent broadleaf weed control. Still, this innovative young producer obviously is not hidebound by tradition, so there’s a good chance he’ll end up traveling the no-till route without waiting for that sunflower chemical list to lengthen. — Don Lilleboe
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