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Advancing NuSun™, Ltd Irrigation

Tuesday, December 9, 2003
filed under: Research and Development

Advancing NuSun™, Limited Irrigation

Continued growth of NuSun™ – in terms of both industry supply and use – as well as promoting limited irrigation sunflower production in the High Plains, are key objectives for the National Sunflower Association in 2004.

NuSun now makes up the majority of the nation’s sunflower production, at about 60% of U.S. sunflower acreage. The USDA estimates that U.S. sunflower production will be up 5% in 2003 compared to last year, with about 2.274 million acres harvested, which would be an increase of 94,000 acres compared to 2002.

The NSA is increasing awareness of NuSun among health and foodservice professionals, food manufacturers, and other vegetable oil users across the U.S., through educational displays and briefings at industry trade shows, one-on-one meetings, cooking oil samples, and print and online materials such as the document “Role of Healthy Oils in the Diet: NuSun™ Sunflower Oil Product White Paper.” This backgrounder reviews scientific research, nutritional guidelines, and regulatory issues that need to be considered when manufacturers and consumers choose a cooking oil.

NuSun continues to attract industrial users, including leading food manufacturers such as Frito-Lay, which announced earlier this year that its new natural and organic line of chips will exclusively use NuSun sunflower oil. Frito-Lay also announced in 2003 that its SunChips® will be made with NuSun, as it meets the company’s newly established healthy standards for oils— elimination of trans fat and lower saturated fat.

Two important developments for NuSun in 2003:

1) The Food & Drug Administration announcement requiring mandatory labeling of trans fats by Jan. 1, 2006. This requirement makes naturally trans-fat free NuSun™ oil an attractive oil choice for food manufacturers.

2) Results of a nutritional study at Penn State, which indicates that NuSun compares favorably with olive oil for health benefits, and even better in some respects, as a NuSun diet was shown to lower cholesterol levels.

In addition to domestic market promotion, the NSA promotes the use of U.S. sunflower kernels, seeds, and oil in international markets as well. The NSA conducts its international market promotion efforts with in countries such as China, Germany, Spain and Mexico with the support of USDA Foreign Agriculture Service grants.

Limited Irrigation, Pest Products

Promoting limited irrigation of sunflower in the High Plains was a key priority for the NSA in 2003 that will continue in 2004.

Sunflower uses as much or more soil water as other crops, but needs about 15-20% less water than corn, and does well in dry conditions due to its deep, aggressive root system. Limited irrigation is a practice which might be described as “strategic watering,” prewatering if need be prior to planting, and watering again at stand establishment, just prior to flowering through seed fill.

More crop producers in the High Plains are finding that limited irrigation of sunflower is more profitable than irrigating other crops, with good yields and less water use. The practice seems to be taking hold. According to the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, the combined number of irrigated sunflower in Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska was nearly 85,000 acres this year, which compares to 37,000 acres last year.

The NSA places a priority on working with researchers and crop protectant makers to get new pesticides for sunflower advanced through the Environmental Protection Agency, either through Section 18 emergency label registration or full Section 3 labeling. Products successfully labeled in 2003 include:

• Dual Magnum™ (Metolachlor) a pre-plant/pre-emergent herbicide that controls most grasses, pigweed and black night shade.

• Beyond™ (Imidazolinone) received a full Section 3 label for use during the 2003 growing season, exclusively on Clearfield™ sunflower. It is used post-emerge to control a number of broadleaf weeds, including common cocklebur and marshelder, on Clearfield sunflower.

• Spartan™ (Sulfentrazone) Spartan received a full Section 3 label from the EPA this fall. The full label will allow the grower more options, including fall applications and tank mixes. Spartan is labeled for control of annual small-seeded broadleaf weeds, including kochia, pigweed, lambsquarters and nightshade.

• Protégé™ (Azoxystrobin) is a fungicide seed treatment now labeled for sunflower to control downy mildew and seedling damping off.

• Folicur™ (Tebuconazole) received a Section 18 label for use this year in Kansas and North Dakota to control rust in sunflower.

• Cruiser™ (Thiamethoxam) received a full Section 3 label on sunflower. Cruiser is applied as a seed treatment for control of early season insects such as the pale-striped flea beetle, wire worm, white grub and sunflower beetle. The product may provide suppression of cutworm as well.

NSA executive director Larry Kleingartner points out that while this list of successful product registrations is impressive, it can take years to work through state and federal government channels to secure product registration. For example, full registration of Spartan this year was finally achieved after five years of availability under a special Section 18 provision, a year-to-year process in which crop scientists must document the product’s environmental safety.

Production Research Key Focus

Production research is a key focus area of the NSA, whose board consists of a cross-section of sunflower industry members and is directed by sunflower growers. Association efforts are funded by sunflower grower checkoff state support, industry contributions and grants.

In order to get pesticides cleared through the regulatory system, products have to be identified through extensive research for efficacy and environmental safety. The NSA annual research budget generally is $125,000. Major research areas funded include disease, weed, insect and blackbird control either via pesticides or genetic resistance. Production research priorities are established annually.

That is considered seed money to begin new research to answer some immediate questions. The real “bread and butter” is the sustained research conducted by USDA ARS Sunflower Unit located in Fargo. The NSA recently was able to gain federal funding to add a molecular geneticist to the Unit’s group of scientists. That important position will be able to save researcher’s valuable time in finding resistance to diseases and insects.

The NSA has also been instrumental in gaining federal funding for what is now called the Sclerotinia Initiative. That fund has added over $400,000 annually to sunflower Sclerotinia research. Resistant genes have been identified and are being put into hybrids. Tests are underway each season to determine levels of resistance by introducing the disease in simulated field conditions.

Legislative, Policy Issues

The NSA provides insight related to the sunflower industry to state and federal lawmakers on issues such as crop insurance, pesticide product use and availability, funding for research, and farm program policy.

In 2003, the NSA and sunflower state lawmakers succeeded in getting an adjustment in the sunflower loan rate. The USDA initially chose not to administer language in the 2002 Farm Bill establishing a single county loan rate for sunflower, electing to set separate loan rates for oil-type and confection sunflower which could have distorted sunflower acreage and markets. USDA reversed course after receiving pressure from the NSA and members of Congress.

The NSA was successful in obtaining several final crop insurance planting dates for sunflower in South Dakota and Colorado in 2003, and a change in the federal crop insurance rules for 2004 that will allow sunflower to be grown on fields planted to soybeans, dry peas, and lentils the previous year. Thus, acreage planted to soybeans, dry peas, and lentils in 2003 can be planted to sunflower in 2004, without affecting federal crop insurance coverage. This change applies to all sunflower-producing states.

A rotational restriction was in place primarily because of a concern about the risk of Sclerotinia. However, while growing sunflower after corn or small grains is still preferred, the disease risk in sunflower is less following pulse crops or soybeans compared to canola, crambe, dry beans, mustard, rapeseed and safflower.

The NSA’s efforts and progress on sunflower research, promotion, and policy issues are reported through its publication, The Sunflower magazine, as well as its web site,, which was redesigned in 2003 for easier navigation and better information.

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