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Oh Canada

Friday, December 15, 2006
filed under: Optimizing Plant Development/Yields

Fred Parnow of Crookston, Minn. began working the Manitoba market for Seeds 2000 about five years ago. He has since become quite familiar with the Canadian sunflower industry, and impressed by the growers.

Parnow says there is a pocket of longtime confection sunflower growers in the Treherne and Rathwell area of Manitoba – about 60 miles southwest of Winnipeg –who, year in and year out, always seem to produce superior yields and quality.

“This area has amazed me for the continual high yields and quality,” says Parnow. “They are extremely focused growers. Their mindset is that a 2,000 lb confection crop is an expected minimum, and 2,500 lb average is the norm. This year, the crop there is so astounding it is hard to comprehend. We have had literally dozens of reports of upper 2000’s and low 3000 lb yields.”

For example, he points to one particular grower in this region who grew about 450 acres of confection sunflower this year yielding in the range of 3,000-3,500/acre after dockage, with seed size 85% over a 21/64 screen, with no insect damage and no disease.

Other growers in the same area are reporting similar numbers. “These guys are not boastful people at all, and there is one grower I know up in the Rathwell area who is a very modest person, and holds his cards close to his chest,” says Parnow. “But at harvest he said that ‘this is my crop of a lifetime.’”

For Canadian growers to do consistently well with confections is all the more remarkable given several production challenges. They have a shorter growing season than their U.S. counterparts, no farm program support (although there is a form of crop insurance) fewer and farther markets for sunflower, and higher fuel costs compared to the U.S. (See fuel price comparison online at – click ‘historical price charts’).

Further, companies sometimes introduce new pesticide products in the U.S. before Canada, in part because the U.S. is a bigger market. Regulatory red tape and a mismatch in pesticide evaluation standards can also mean delayed approval for products in both countries.

This is the first year Cruiser has been available as a seed treatment option in Canada, and Spartan and Clearfield still aren’t available – Canadian growers are hoping both will be available in 2007, albeit on a limited basis.

So what makes the confection sunflower yields and quality in this pocket of southern Manitoba stand out? Well, it helps to have good rolling land that helps prevent saturation of their mostly silty clay loam soils. However, Parnow believes it has a lot to do with attention to management. “Sunflower is a money crop for them,” he says. “They understand that top notch, highly focused management practices are rewarded by high returns per acre.”

It’s typical for farmers in a neighborhood to learn from one another, and as a management practice takes hold with one grower, it may be picked up by others in the area too. That might also explain why this area does well at producing sunflower. “They’re a pretty close group. They all look at what they do and there’s a friendly competition there to do well.”

Parnow observes a combination of fundamental practices – some of which are spelled out in the Canadian confection contracts – that add up to make a consistent impact:

Excellent weed control. This is the first thing that Parnow says stands out – these guys have clean sunflower fields. Growers make good use of the pre- and post- herbicides they do have. They don’t take shortcuts from the label, and they double incorporate their preplant herbicides. They apply glyphosate just before the confection plants pop out of the ground and a post rescue herbicide like Poast or Assert if needed.

Cultivation. Many cultivate their confections between the rows. “The Elmers single shank cultivator made in Altona (Manitoba) is popular up there; you’ll see them used for sugar beets down here,” Parnow says. “They go through the field at a good clip, not too fast that you uproot the sunflower plants, but fast enough that while they’re taking out weeds between the rows, they’re throwing dirt into the sunflower rows, covering escaped weeds and helping to stabilize the plants.”

Good rotations. Wheat and other cereals still play a fundamental role in the crop rotations here, providing benefits (such as residual weed control) for the following broadleaf crops like sunflower. They don’t grow sunflower on the same piece of ground more than once every four years - four is required in the confection contract, although some growers have an even longer rotation between sunflower crops, as much as five, six, even seven years – and sunflower doesn’t take up more than 10-20% of their rotation in any given year.

Plant population. Seed drop is typically 15,000 to 18,000 plants per acre to achieve a final plant stand of 13,000 to 15,000. They fertilize to achieve their yield goal, but otherwise follow a typical crop nutrient program for sunflower.

Good genetics. They plant an early maturing confection hybrid that does well in the southern Manitoba growing environment, and meets processor requirements for seed size and dehulling.

Timely insect control. They stay on top of insects and follow timely treatment measures as prescribed in their confection contracts. “All too often, confection growers wait too long to spray for banded sunflower moth and seed weevil, get discounted or rejected in the market, and consequently quit raising confections, and that’s ultimately a loss for the confection sunflower industry,” says Parnow. “These growers really understand the value of protecting the quality of their confections; they’re on top of their game when it comes to spraying for insects, and it always seems to be on the earlier side rather than later.

“They manage for lodging too,” adds Parnow. “Every plant gets into the combine.”

As a longtime ag representative (now business development specialist) with Manitoba Agriculture, Bob Wheeler knows these growers well. “They’re well-informed growers. They attend meetings and stay on top of pests and crop conditions themselves or working with agronomists,” he says. “They make the best of their production possibilities.”

“A lot of it has to do with timing,” says Justin Timmerman, an independent crop consultant who works with a number of growers in the Treherne/Rathwell area. “Planting on a timely basis, herbicide timing, and just overall management.”

Mendel Waldner is seed procurement manager for Alberta Sunflower Seeds Ltd, (which recently changed its name to Spitz International), Bow Island, Alberta. The company makes Spitz brand sunflower seeds and procures much of the confection seed grown in Canada.

Among the Canadian processor’s requirements are production of a specific hybrid (6946) a minimum seed size (over 21/64 screen) and less than 0.75% Sclerotinia and insect damage, with anything over 0.75% sent instead to the bird seed market. “We demand the most, but to my knowledge, we also offer the highest contracts,” says Waldner, who like Parnow, stresses the importance of weed control. “Weed control is the most important part of it. If you don’t have weed control, you don’t have any sunflowers. They just won’t put up with any competition.”

Waldner says growers in the Treherne/Rathwell area work hard to maintain their confection sunflower contracts. “Very dedicated, loyal growers. I have 100% trust in the guys at Treherne.”

Planting in 36” rows

Brothers Ian and Harvey Pritchard farm between Treherne and Rathwell, and while the height of the growing season was hot and dry, a fast early start combined with good stored soil moisture generally resulted in a good year for all of their crops. “But sunflower was the highlight of the year. It was the best sunflower crop we’ve ever had,” says Ian. He says 3,000 lbs/acre is a ‘conservative’ yield estimate, set up by the ample subsoil moisture and virtually no disease.

The Pritchards have been growing confection sunflower for about 20 years. About 10-15% of their cropland is sunflower, with a rotation anywhere from four to eight years. They rotate broadleaf crops (sunflower, canola, dry edible beans) with cereal crops (wheat, corn, oats) and they usually plant sunflower after wheat, with the sunflower taking advantage of the perennial weed control in the preharvest glyphosate treatment in the wheat. “We like to hit weeds hard in that wheat crop. That’s helped a lot in the sunflower, as far as the perennial weeds go, starting with a clean field to begin with,” says Ian Pritchard.

They usually apply and incorporate Sonalan® granular herbicide (ethalfluralin – labeled as Edge® in Canada) in the fall, and incorporate again in the spring, using a harrow if need be on sandy ground to minimize residue disturbance.

This year, the Pritchards used Assert and some Muster® (Ethametsulfuron-methyl) for post-emerge control of a number of broadleaf weeds, key among them flixweed, hemp nettle, stinkweed, smartweed and wild mustard. It’s applied when sunflowers are from the two to eight leaf stage. Muster is already labeled in Canada for use on canola and mustard, with minor use approval for sunflower in 2006. It’s no longer registered in the U.S. The Pritchards cultivate between the sunflower rows at least once, usually twice.

The Pritchards aim for planting sunflower within the first two weeks of May, and

usually fertilize for a 2,500 lb yield goal. They plant sunflower in 36” rows. “With 12 -row equipment we’re covering 36 ft, whereas a 12 row 30” we’d be covering 30 ft, so the cost per foot of equipment is a little less,” says Ian. The extra row width makes cultivating between the rows for weed control a bit easier too. While they plant with 12-row equipment, they harvest with an 8-row Raymac sunflower header.

“Another advantage is more air flow between the rows that might help with disease control, at least we think so in dry edible beans.” They drop 16,000 – 17,000 seeds for a final plant population of 14,000-15,000.

Ray Friesen, who farms near Treherne, also grew 3,000+ lb sunflower this year, and like the Pritchards, also plants sunflower in 36” rows. “I wouldn’t say it’s common. There’s a few of us left who plant that way. But it would be expensive to switch, and 36” rows have been successful.” Along with sunflower, Friesen grows dry edible beans, corn, spring wheat, canola, and oats, and maintains a minimum four year rotation between sunflower crops.

“Seed population is critical to me,” Friesen says. “Planting thin and even is important for quality and seed size.” He aims for a 14,000 – 15,000 plant stand. He applies liquid fertilizer or anhydrous, Sonalan (Edge) in the fall or spring for pre-plant weed control, Assert® for wild mustard control, and cultivates between the rows twice.

At harvest, Friesen may apply a desiccant (Diquat dibromide, registered in Canada as Reglone®, not registered in the U.S.). He notes that there seems to be more desiccant use on sunflower these days in the Treherne-Rathwell area than in the past, allowing growers to start harvesting at 14-15% moisture, then aerate down to under 10% moisture for storage.

“The weed control is quite good around here,” Friesen says. “Other than that, we just seem to have the land and microclimate that works well for growing sunflowers.” – Tracy Sayler

More Confections in Manitoba than N.D. in 2006

Over 80% of all sunflower grown in Canada is located in Manitoba, and about 80% of all Canadian sunflower is confection type, according to the National Sunflower Association of Canada.

Oil sunflower acreage in Manitoba this year is far below that of North Dakota, but Manitoba will actually grow more confection acres in 2006 compared to the leading U.S. sunflower producing state.

The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation reports 35,800 acres of oil sunflowers and 142,800 acres of confection sunflower registered for insurance in Manitoba this year. According to the N.D. Agricultural Statistics Service, about 700,000 acres of oil sunflower were planted in North Dakota in 2006, with confection sunflower acreage estimated at 125,000, down from 230,000 last year. Harvested area in N.D. was

forecast at 120,000 acres.

Manitoba Publishes New Sunflower Production Guide

The Sunflower Production Guide was produced by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, along with the National Sunflower Association of Canada. This glove compartment-sized guide provides information on field selection, seeding rates, depths, fertilizer recommendations and sunflower harvesting tips. Also featured in the guide is full-color photos of sunflower pests to aid in identifying insects and diseases. The 40-page publication is available by phone, 204-945-3893, and through the NSAC (

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