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NSA Research Priorities, 2014

Sunday, December 1, 2013
filed under: Research and Development

Is agricultural research important? Do my checkoff dollars make a difference?

The answer to these questions is easy: You better believe it!

Agricultural research is critically important in that it is the only way to find out ways to combat new strains of fungi, bacteria, weeds, insects and other pests that can destroy crops. It is also the only way to find new varieties of crops that we hope will yield better, be more disease resistant and more drought tolerant. Without agricultural research, we have virtually no hope of feeding the expected nine billion people on the planet by 2050.

According to Karl Esping, NSA board member and Lindsborg, Kan., producer, “Research is paramount to the sunflower industry.” Since its inception, the National Sunflower Association has committed itself to providing funds to researchers to stimulate new or continue with ongoing sunflower research that may result in lower production costs, increased quality and/or higher yields.

“This commitment to research resulted in the development of NuSun® sunflower; and, we would not have Clearfield® or ExpressSun® ’flowers without it,” adds Esping. Many of the crop protection and pest management tools and production practices used today have been the result of NSA-funded research.

How Is NSA-Supported Research Funded?

NSA-supported research is mainly funded with checkoff funds from Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota and the Dakotas. The NSA High Plains Committee also contributes a portion of its funds. Those High Plains Committee funds come from sunflower industry members not included in the checkoff. “I have always considered funding research as the most important thing we can do with our checkoff dollars,” says Art Ridl, NSA board member and Dickinson, N.D., producer. “The NSA is always looking for any new innovations and/or products that will make a difference in the bottom line for producers and the sunflower industry.”

How Are Research Projects Chosen?

To help prioritize research areas, the NSA has a research committee made up of researchers, industry leaders and sunflower producers representing all major sunflower states. The committee meets in late October to set research priorities for the upcoming year. After proposals are received, the committee meets in early January to review the submitted proposals, and then each committee member gives each proposal a scientific merit score of 1, 3 or 5, with 5 being the highest. The scores are added together and averaged to get a composite score.

“This system has been in place for many years, as it seems to be the best method to evaluate and recommend the best research projects to fund in the most impartial way,” says Ron Seidel, Meadow, S.D., producer and NSA board member. “It allows me and fellow NSA board members to make wise funding decisions based on the composite scientific merit score each proposal receives.”

Resolving Sclerotinia continues to be a high priority. Grant requests for this disease are directed to the National Sclerotinia Initiative. There is a concentrated research effort in this disease — from wild accessions to fungicide trials and everything in between. NSA is a leader in urging researchers to consider additional or new directions in Sclerotinia sunflower research to find a solution for this disease.

The list on the next page specifies “areas of interest” outlined by the NSA Research Committee. This is not an exclusive list, and the committee will consider all production areas of research.

Research Areas of Interest

(not necessarily in order of priority)

Production Issues —

1. Irrigation timing and other issues related to irrigation of sunflower, with emphasis on limited irrigation. Pivot sharing with other crops such as corn that would be beneficial.

2. Blackbirds: Innovative and new approaches to reduce damage.

3. Factors related to achieving an adequate plant stand. This could include: planter calibration and other planter issues, early season sunflower plant screening for stand, seeding depth, soil temperature/ moisture, seedling vigor, seed biology, insects/diseases and other. Skips and doubles and the effect they have on yield loss.

4. Fertility management in sunflower for sulfur and other nutrients. Data are needed for the predominant sunflower producing areas of the western Dakotas.

5. Fungicide application for control of diseases and enhanced yield. Issues of timing and tank mixing with insecticides/herbicides are of interest. There is a strong preference for using labeled fungicides and the efficacy of adjuvants. Preference will be given for the control of Phomopsis and Sclerotinia.

6. Fertility management for irrigated sunflower. Studies relating to timing and quantity of nitrogen applications for fertigation of irrigated sunflower.

7. Improve genetic progress in sunflower to enhance competitiveness with other crops and stability of yield and quality, using SNPs or other genomic tools.

8. Using variable rates for seeding and fertility management for sunflower.

9. Planting depth for oil and confection sunflower (intervals of 1-, 2- and 3-inch depth rates) for percent of emergence with seed size variability (small, medium and large size seeds).

Insects —

1. Long-Horned Beetle (Dectes): Interest in multiple approaches to minimizing damage, including date of planting/harvesting, efficacy of stay green hybrids and the use of experimental insecticides.

2. Controlling insects including sunflower head moth, through conventional insecticide means, seed treatments or other innovative techniques.

3. Screen hybrid and breeding material, including physiological makeup for midge and other insect resistance.

Weeds —

1. Palmer amaranth and glyphosate-resistant kochia are species of great concern.

2. Interest in innovative weed control techniques related to existing labels, and to test experimental or new-to-market herbicides for potential sunflower application.

Diseases —

1. Phomopsis is of concern throughout the production region. Proposals dealing with both short- and long-term control strategies will be of interest. Determining species of the disease is considered very important.

2. Rust — including identifying races and the control of rust via genetic resistance and fungicide application.

3. Verticillium also has been identified as a disease of concern. Proposals dealing with short- and long-term control strategies will be of interest.

4. There is continued interest in downy mildew with the development of new races and fungicide efficacy. Proposals looking at genetic resistance along with seed treatments with multiple modes of action will be of interest.

5. Charcoal rot and Rhizopus are of interest as well. Proposals dealing with short- and long-term control strategies will be of interest.

6. Sclerotinia proposals should be directed to the National Sclerotinia Initiative.

To learn more about what is happening in sunflower research, consider attending the annual NSA Sunflower Research Forum. The 2014 Forum will be held on January 8 and 9 at the Ramada Plaza Suites & Convention Center in Fargo, N.D. The purpose of the Forum is to report on research, to promote discussion, and to stimulate creative thinking. Use this link for more details:

If you can’t make it to the Forum, you can learn more about NSA-funded research projects by going to: This site contains an online searchable database of more than 30 years of sunflower research papers.

---John Sandbakken

* John Sandbakken is executive director of the National Sunflower Association.
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