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Successful Initial Year of Double-Cropped ’Flower

Friday, February 1, 2008
filed under: Planting Systems

Eric Maaske saw plenty of sunflower fields during the year he was employed by a futures trading firm headquartered in north central North Dakota. But the University of Nebraska ag economics and animal science graduate never grew a sunflower crop of his own until 2007 — years after returning to his native state and opening a commodities office in Kearney.

For someone who grew up in the soybean country of south central Nebraska and who trades them as a commodity broker and investment specialist, Maaske is not a big fan of soybeans. “Never have been,” he says. “I don’t like selling them, I don’t like growing them, and I don’t like harvesting them.”

Still, soybeans did play into Maaske’s decision to plant 310 acres of double-crop sunflower following wheat last summer. “Being on the commodities side, I thought [soy oil] prices would be strong — which they have been,” he recounts. “And that in turn would provide a good profit opportunity for us [with sunflower].”

Two other reasons led to the Oxford, Neb., producer’s decision to go with double-cropped ’flowers in 2007. One was his desire to optimize income off that large fixed asset called “land.” The other was the imminent construction of a large biofuels plant in nearby Arapaho — a plant that would process sunflower as well as soybeans and possibly canola.

Looking back, Maaske says his foray into sunflower turned out to be a very good decision.

He encountered only one serious issue in his first year of sunflower production: the ‘Great White Combine.’ A rare early September hailstorm struck a good portion of Maaske’s irrigated crop, resulting in 100% defoliation and zero yield on some of it. Another segment incurred 80% defoliation, yet still ended up averaging 950 lbs per acre. (He couldn’t take out multi-peril on the double-crop ’flowers, but hail insurance did cover his inputs.)

It was the remaining non-hailed acreage that put a smile on the Phelps County producer’s face. Those ’flowers, planted at the very end of June, ended up averaging 2,350 lbs per acre .

Maaske stored his entire 2007 sunflower crop, anticipating their eventual sale to Republican Valley Biofuels — the Arapahoe biodiesel and oilseed processing facility. More recently, though, the seeds were sold into the birdseed market.

Good moisture this past year in the Bertrand area resulted in Maaske needing to apply just 2.4 inches of irrigation water to his ’07 second-crop sunflower. The initial application was in the bud stage, following by two more passes post-bloom.

Fertility consisted of an at-planting application of 25 pounds of nitrogen, another 15 of phosphorus and two pounds sulfur. “Then we came in when the ’flowers were about waist-high and sidedressed another 50 pounds of N and 50 of P,” he explains, with the extra phosphorus geared more toward the succeeding wheat crop.

Weed control in the double-crop sunflower was provided by glyphosate and a light rate of Prowl in a preplant tank mix.

Maaske intended to desiccate his sunflower, but the September hailstorm obviously negated the need on the damaged acres. Plus, the remaining unhailed ’flowers dried down satisfactorily without desiccation. Maaske used his Drago corn head fitted with sunflower knives to harvest them. Immediately following the sunflower harvest, they sprayed glyphosate to kill any volunteer wheat and other weeds, applied dry fertilizer, and drilled in an ’08 winter wheat crop.

Good yields (hailed acreage aside), efficient water use, relative ease of production, and the optimal use of his land resource all combined to leave a very favorable impression of sunflower for Eric Maaske in 2007. For 2008, along with producing more double-cropped ’flowers, he also intends to plant a full-season field under the center pivot.

Regardless of what you think of soybeans, that’s a nice option to have in south central Nebraska. — Don Lilleboe
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