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“If I Can Plant Wheat, I Can Plant ‘Flowers”

Tuesday, April 2, 2002
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

“If I Can Plant Wheat, I Can Plant ‘Flowers”

Planting early usually means better tonnage for Minnesota producer

Jim Kukowski prefers to plant sunflower early in the spring. “Basically, as soon as I can get into the field,” says the Stratcona, Minn. Producer. “If I can plant wheat, then I can plant my ‘flowers. It seems like we get better tonnage when we plant early.”

Though he farms only about 30 miles from the Canadian border, Kukowski isn’t concerned about frost damage by planting sunflower too early. “It’s only happened once in all the years I’ve been raising ‘flowers, and I think the damage was more from complications involving the chemical we put down than frost.”

As a general rule, Kukowski says that he doesn’t plant sunflower after May 20. “I don’t like to anyway. Then the fall gets too drawn out and the ‘flowers won’t dry down as good. I’ve planted them up to June 1, but it just seems like I’m fighting with them then; either the yield isn’t there or they don’t dry down as well. I have a dryer, but prefer to use natural air for dry down.”

Kukowski, a seed producer and dealer, grows sunflower in rotation with wheat and soybeans. He also grows canola, although he’s scaling his canola acreage back a bit, and growing more sunflower. “A lot of the guys around here went to different crops, because of the wet weather. But I think we’ll see a turnaround if there’s a return to a drier weather cycle. Sunflower does better in this area when it’s drier,” he says.

Last year, a wet spring resulted in prevented planting for Kukowsi and many other northwest Minn. farmers. Despite the wet conditions, Kukowski still managed to yield a sunflower crop that he says was “just shy of a ton.” This year, Kukowsi foresees planting sunflower as early as the end of April, if the weather cooperates. He’s going to plant oil sunflower, for the dehulling market.

Kukowski says he likes growing sunflower in part because it spreads out his harvest, and it gives him more efficient use of his combine. He plants sunflower in rows, rather than solid seeding. “That way we’re seeding wheat and planting sunflower at the same time. We cover more acres that way.”

He uses Sonalan for pre-emergent weed control, and monitors closely for insects. He credits growing the right hybrids and good timing with his spray program for minimizing problems with insects, including the sunflower midge. His crop rotation of growing sunflower on a field every three to four years helps contend with diseases such as phomopsis and sclerotinia.

Kukowski cultivates for weed control, “and with the wet years we’ve been having, cultivated ‘flowers just seem to grow better.” He speculates that cultivation may help warm the soil, thus aiding in sunflower growth. – Tracy Sayler

NDSU: May Plantings Perform Better Than June

Sunflower planting date studies at Carrington and Langdon, N.D., indicate oil percent is highest in early planted (May 10-20) sunflower. Test weight is also higher when planted early. Seed yield at Carrington was highest when planted May 20-30. Research at Minot also indicated higher test weight, oil, and yield in May versus June sunflower plantings.

Earlier planting, (May 15), usually allows for earlier maturity and hopefully warmer harvest weather. Earlier plantings may also help avoid leaf rust yield losses.

Bird and insect damage is a factor to consider, however. The earliest planted fields may escape damage from migrating birds, but may concentrate local birds. Insects may also gather in the earliest blooming fields. Planting over several days in a two-week period decreases the risks associated with insects, rainfall patterns and harvest conditions.

Information courtesy of Terry Gregoire, North Dakota State University area extension cropping systems specialist, Devils Lake. If you have access to the Internet, be sure to bookmark the ProCrop web site ( designed and edited by Gregoire. ProCrop contains over 1,200 short articles concerning production of northern-grown small grains and row crops.

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