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‘High Boys’ in Sunflower: Another Look

Monday, November 1, 2010
filed under: Equipment

To desiccate or not to desiccate? The question lingers on the minds of many producers as harvest approaches each year.

“There’s a phenomenal crop out there this year,” noted Washburn, N.D., agronomy specialist Darrell Scheresky in early October. “There’s more of an incentive to chase it this year.”

Chasing that good crop means being proactive with desiccation.

The agronomy center in Washburn, Enerbase, helps out area growers with its new 4830 John Deere high-clearance sprayer. With a 100’ boom and fully equipped GPS technology, the operator guides the steering wheel with little effort, and the satellites take care of the rest. The sprayer adjusts the flow and output of chemical, allowing the booms to stop automatically and avoid spraying the same area twice. This also saves the farmer in product cost.

Favorable early fall weather allowed the Washburn-based agronomy team to desiccate a number of sunflower fields this season. Among them were those of Washburn area producer Terry Carlson. He hired the Enerbase crew to spray all of his 530 acres of oil sunflower this season in stages so that his ’flower harvest would fall into manageable intervals.

When he was contacted after having harvested about 220 of his sunflower acres, Carlson expressed pleasure with with yields. He had some cutworm issues and emergence problems early on this season, but was looking forward to ending the season with a profitable crop. Carlson has desiccated his sunflower the past three years and says the practice has been very beneficial in helping him get the crop off early while preserving yield potential.

Getting the sunflower crop off faster with the aid of a desiccant can pay good dividends for numerous growers. With today’s high values, getting the crop harvested a few weeks early can result in higher yields and lower drying costs. Late-season crop damage is well recognized when strong winds can lodge plants or rub seeds from heads. Blackbird damage can be reduced, and desiccation may also slow down head diseases such as Sclerotinia. Sometimes the market will pay a premium for early delivered seed. These are all positives for the grower — especially when there’s a favorable crop awaiting for the combine.

Carlson has utilized both aerial and ground desiccant applications in the past, depending on what he’s looking for in protection. “You have to be patient,” he notes. “I use Roundup simply because it gives an overall coverage in one pass so you don’t have to go back and clean up the field after you’ve harvested.”

In the aerial-versus-ground application debate, various factors can weigh in. It all depends on the needs of the producer and that particular crop, while considering cost effectiveness, coverage and timeliness.

Scheresky says with the “high boy” sprayer, they tend to have better coverage, less drift, avoid power lines and save the waterways. Aerial application tends to be more expensive, allows for more drift and cannot avoid obstacles when compared to ground application. While the cost can vary from year to year, Enerbase has been charging approximately $8.50 per acre, including both chemical (Roundup in this case) and application with the high boy.

Aerial application has its advantages too, of course, but sometimes the issue boils down to timeliness. “With the way things are planted so quickly these days,” Scheresky says, “the window of time for chemical application — especially when dealing with insects in sunflower— is narrower and narrower. ‘Who can get out there quicker’ is sometimes what determines the application process in aerial versus ground.”

Basically, it can come down to who’s busier — the pilot or the sprayer operator. Scheresky says that in the past they’ve yielded to the aerial sprayers for pest control; but more recently pilots have gotten so busy that they didn’t have the time to reach some fields at the right time. In light of that, Scheresky foresees using their JD high-clearance unit next growing season for insecticide application.

One disadvantage with ground application is crop damage in the sprayer’s wheel path. Clearance on the Deere sprayer’s boom is around 7’, and under the sprayer belly it’s about 5-1/2’. Scheresky is well aware of the damage that can occur to the sunflower — particularly in the taller hybrids. He’s considered equipping the sprayer with crop dividers to help with potential plant destruction, but says that the reduction in damage from this option is very minimal.

“You hate to see the plants go down, but you know going into it that you will likely see about 2% damage,” Scheresky says. “Most farmers realize that the small amount of damage is going to happen, and it’s worth it if you can get in there earlier with the combine and save yield in the long run.” — Sonia Mullally

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