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Kentucky Research Explores

Thursday, December 1, 2011
filed under: Research and Development

The sunflower industry is constantly looking for acres, and that quest leads to what some might consider “unchartered waters” — the extreme southeastern U.S. region of Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.

Brian Caldbeck of Caldbeck Consulting is facilitating a research project in Logan County, Ky., (southwestern part of the state) to prove his theory that these so-called “unchartered waters” have tremendous potential for sunflower as an additional rotational crop for the region’s farmers. The crop would provide feedstock to local crushers supplying sunflower oil to the customer base in the eastern U.S. The project is partially funded by the National Sunflower Association.

Sunflower production is scarce in this region. Caldbeck estimates about 2,000 acres. That number contributes to his motivation because of the possibility for sunflower to gain acres that farmers in the area have committed to soybeans in a double-crop scenario after winter wheat. Recent research on sunflower in the Southeast, according to Caldbeck, has been limited to hybrid yield trials by the University of Georgia, or field strip trials and no-till double-crop research by private companies.

The research project is being conducted in a commercial field setting on a 100-acre plot split between double-crop soybeans and double-crop sunflower on winter wheat stubble, using one variety of each crop. There are two principle objectives: (1) to compare economics of double-crop soybeans versus double-crop sunflower; and (2) to determine rotational impact of both double crops on next year’s (2012) corn yields. Soil has been tested in GPS-referenced locations for plant pathogenic nematodes and nutrients. This will be repeated at harvest and prior to planting corn next spring. There is also a high-oleic hybrid trial being conducted on-site.

Caldbeck comments on the other, and slightly less scientific, objective of the project. “If there is a third objective to this trial, it would be to deal with the deficit of information on commercial sunflower production and show farmers how it can fit into already-full rotations.”

The sunflower was planted on July 7 and harvested in early November. Yields of both sunflower and soybeans were noted and soil samples taken. The two-year study will continue when corn is planted on the 100-acre plot next spring. Once that crop is harvested, Caldbeck will take a closer look at rotational issues following sunflower versus soybeans. The corn yield will be measured three times via weigh wagon on both sides of the previous cropping dividing line in the same GPS-referenced yield zones used to measure the yields of the sunflower and soybeans.

Anticipated results of this work are primarily aimed at building confidence with regional farmers that sunflower production can be both profitable and practical in their operations. The results also will provide information and foster interest within support resources such as extension personnel, industry and private crop consultants. The focus will be education on how area farmers can overcome the perceived limitations of adding an unfamiliar crop into their rotation.

In addition to education, a key piece of the sunflower puzzle is market delivery points. “If market opportunities become more available, interest would pick up rapidly,” suggests Caldbeck.

For now, the work continues, as Caldbeck gathers information to further sunflower’s cropping potential in this unfamiliar territory.

— Sonia Mullally
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