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A Day to Celebrate

Tuesday, September 1, 2009
filed under: Research and Development

It was a day for celebration. The sprinkling of sunflower seeds for the dedication of a research plot planter, combine and trailer culminated six months of intense work on the part of National Sunflower Association board members John Swanson, Dean Sonnenberg, Dan Wiltse and Mike Clemens.

The need to replace the greatly outdated USDA-ARS Sunflower Research Unit equipment was recognized by the NSA Board of Directors at its December 2008 meeting. The board committed $200,000 to get the project rolling and challenged the sunflower industry to match that commitment.

Titan Machinery made the first donation of a planter base and a low-lease tractor complete with the RTK navigational system. Others came forward quickly, with a total commitment of $165,000. There was a recognition that field research can only be successful with adequate equipment.

John Swanson best summarized the situation: “Nearly $4 million is going into sunflower public research programs annually, with some of the most dedicated researchers in the country. Only problem is they are using equipment that my grandfather used 40 years ago.”

The new ARS planter, manufactured by Almaco, comes with high-technology features that provide for precision planting at a consistent depth across all seed sizes. The system eliminates any mixing of seed and reduces the need to overplant and thin. The combine, built by Kincaid Equipment Manufacturing, has all of the necessary “bells and whistles” with quick clean out and sample collecting, and likewise carries a custom-made sunflower header for efficient harvesting. Bottom line is that plots can be planted and harvested much quicker, allowing for an expansion of research plots to other regions and environments. The trailer is an easy-pulling fifth-wheel allowing for “easy off and on” access of equipment. It was purchased by FMC Corporation.

Drs. Michael McGuire and Roy Scott, USDA-ARS officials from Fort Collins Colo., and Beltsville, Md., respectively, praised the NSA for taking this leadership. Buying this type of equipment in today’s environment of tight federal budgets is nearly impossible for federal agencies. McGuire and Scott reiterated the importance of the partnership between the NSA and USDA-ARS, noting that this partnership is attracting the attention of policy makers within USDA and congressional offices.

Jim Wiesemeyer of Informa Economics, one of the 2009 Summer Seminar’s featured speakers, also complimented the NSA for this action. “Too many groups are depending on the federal government for handouts [while] you went ahead and funded it yourself. That is commendable,” Wiesemeyer observed.

Despite the short time-frame for planning and fund raising, the planter was delivered to Fargo in time for spring planting. There were some initial challenges on getting everything calibrated, but Dr. Brent Hulke, ARS sunflower research geneticist, reports that this year’s plots look great. The combine was delivered this summer, providing plenty of time to fine-tune it for the 2009 sunflower plot harvest season. — Larry Kleingartner
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