Article Archives
Top Tips to Hit 3,000

Monday, January 1, 2001
filed under: Planting Systems

Top Tips To Hit 3,000 lbs

Management maxims for maximizing yield potential

One thousand pounds? Maybe palatable only during a drought. Two thousand pounds? That’s more like it. Three thousand pounds? Now there’s something to write home about.

True, weather and luck play a major part as maker (or breaker) of a 3,000-lb sunflower yield potential. But management plays a key role too. Indeed, you’re more likely to end up with a perfect cake if you start off with the right ingredients and bake it properly.

South Dakota State University oilseeds breeder Kathleen Grady says she has heard of SD producers getting close to 3,000-lb yields in the last few years, and she had a few hybrids reach that benchmark in her 1999 yield trials.

“It depends a lot on the weather. I think it’s possible to get 3,000-lb yields on a consistent basis, but the problem is that the weather doesn’t cooperate on a consistent basis,” says Grady. A good seedbed, stand establishment, fertility, the right hybrid, and pest control are some of the keys to maximizing yield potential, she says.

Ken Berndt, field representative for Northern Sun, Goodland, KS, says he is also aware of producers in the High Plains who have come close to 3,000-lb yields with oil sunflower. “I’m not sure why, but I think spacing within the row makes a difference; even distribution and emergence. Fertility is important too, especially early in that plant’s life. I think it’s going to take more than 150 lbs per acre of N to get that kind of yield. Certainly weed and insect control, especially stem weevils, is important, and timely harvesting. All those factors add up. They are all additive,” says Berndt.

Overcoming Yield Hurdles

Blake Vander Vorst, a private crops consultant and agronomist for Ducks Unlimited, Bismarck, ND, has a client who farms near Steele, ND, who came close to 3,000 pounds with a conventional oil hybrid grown on a conventional-tilled field in 1998, and again with NuSun hybrids on third-year no-till ground in 2000. This producer averaged close to 2,500 pounds/acre overall last year.

“We’re doing a better job with weed control and moisture management, and that’s been a limiting factor,” Vander Vorst says. “I think if we can have good weed control with no-till, we can consistently push a higher yield and expect 2,000 pounds or better.”

Before planting row crops, including sunflower, Vander Vorst works with the producer on soil testing to establish baseline information for fertility needs. “We do every field, every year.” Tests last year indicated a need for additional micronutrients, so they included zinc sulphate with the 2 x 2 starter in the sunflower fertilization schedule in 2000. The urea was broadcast on the surface, but Vander Vorst’s preference is to band it with the planter or place it under the soil surface. If small grains are the next crop in the rotation, they’ll focus on soil testing for nitrogen.

In the fall, they use either Roundup or Fallow Master as a burndown treatment for weed control, focusing on perennials. In the last growing season, they used Spartan at 4 oz./acre for weed control, then came back with 2.5 oz./acre of Assert to clean up a small amount of wild mustard, and Poast at 12 oz./acre to clean up pigeongrass (foxtail).

Planting date is focused around May 15, with a seed drop from 22,000 to 24,000 in 30” rows. Consideration is being given to using an air drill and planting 15” rows.

Vander Vorst helps monitor the sunflower crop for insects. “Last year we got away with applying a ring around the field by plane,” he says. The insecticide border treatment helped control the seed weevil, banded sunflower moth, and sunflower head moth. “I haven’t seen the sunflower head moth for a few years, at least in this area,” says Vander Vorst.

Tips to Maximize Yield Potential

What can you do to maximize sunflower yield potential, and gun for 3,000 pounds? North Dakota State University extension agronomist Duane Berglund offers these tips:

Select the right hybrid. Analyze performance trials (over multiple years and multiple locations) and grow what has the best potential in your area. Full-season hybrids have the best yield potential.

Select the right land. Seems obvious, yet sometimes sunflower is planted on land that suffers from poor soils, salinity, or drainage problems. Go ahead and hope for the best, but don’t be surprised by sub-par yield performance. Furthermore, land selection also plays a key role in minimizing blackbird problems. If you plant sunflower adjacent to wetlands or nesting and roosting sites, make sure you have those cattails sprayed (if you live in North or South Dakota) by USDA’s Wildlife Services early in July. Early control of the cattails will make that wetland less desirable for fall habitat.

Use the right crop rotation. Minimize Sclerotinia potential by avoiding tight broadleaf crop rotations.

Push the plant population. Solid seed for a target 28,000 plants per acre, or 24,000 plants per acre for sunflower planted in 22-30” rows.

Calibrate your planter correctly. Make sure there’s no skips or doubles in the row, and that you’re seeding at the ideal planting depth of 1.5 to 2.5 inches.

Soil test, and use starter fertilizer. Test soils to determine what soil nutrients your sunflower crop will need, then apply it. To apply starter fertilizer at planting, use a “2x2” placement with seed 2” below the soil and fertilizer 2” below the seed. Or, sidedress N fertilizer in sunflower planted in wider rows if the yield potential is there, and weeds are under control. Apply anhydrous nitrogen in the fall or before planting in the spring, or topdress urea when plants are about 6” tall, or sidedress in wider rows when sunflower is around 4-6” tall.

Plant at the right time. Earlier is better in drier, warmer parts of sunflower production areas. In the southern half of North Dakota, the planting window is May 10-25, and in the northern half, May 15-30.

Treat weeds in a timely manner. Fall is important for perennial weed control. Use the right products at the right rates at the right time for preplant weed control or post-emergent weed control during the growing season.

Suppress disease potential. Plant resistant hybrids, use proper crop rotations, and treat seed.

Treat insects in a timely manner. This is one area where producers often don’t manage as diligently as other facets of sunflower production. Consider treating seed with Lindane to avoid wireworm problems. Monitor for cutworms early in the growing season, and other insects such as weevils, beetles, and moths, and treat at minimum economic threshold levels at the proper time.

Harvest at the right moisture. Moisture testing is key to avoid harvesting too early or too late. A good harvest range is 10 to 15% moisture. It can be more economical to artificially dry a crop that’s close to 15% moisture than to risk increased shelling once the standing crop falls below 10% moisture.—Tracy Sayler

return to top of page

   More about Sunflower ►