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A Look Back - 30 Years Ago

Friday, April 1, 2016
filed under: Historical

        Today’s Hybrids Are Better / By Don Lilleboe — “Has the yield-ability of U.S. sunflower hybrids really shown significant improvement over the past several years; or is someone just blowing smoke?  After all, commercial sunflower yields during the five-year period 1981-85 actually averaged 100-plus pounds less than the 1976-80 average.
       “The best way to compare today’s hybrids with those of a decade ago is to measure both groups’ performance against that of a ‘check’ hybrid.  And for the sunflower industry, the logical check is hybrid 894 — the genetic torchbearer which was first introduced in the early ’70s.  Variations of this varietal workhorse are still widely used throughout sunflower-growing regions.
       “A comparison of how both previous and current hybrids measure up against 894 reveals that, yes, today’s hybrids definitely are superior to their counterparts of a decade ago.
       “In 1972-74 University of Minnesota sunflower trials, for example, hybrid 894 yielded 10 percent above the average of 13 other hybrids, with the highest-yielding hybrid coming in at just three percent higher than 894.  By 1982-84, however, the scenario was reversed.  During that three-year period, the other 45 hybrids in the Minnesota trials yielded, on average, eight percent more than 894; and the highest-yielding hybrid across those three years produced 31 percent more yield than 894. . . .
       “(This yield improvement was accompanied by better oil content.  In the 1972-74 Minnesota trials, 894’s oil percentage ran 0.5 percent higher than the average of all other hybrids.  By 1982-84, 894’s oil was running 0.8 percent below the overall average.)
       “Those Minnesota numbers don’t surprise Jerry Miller.  The USDA research geneticist recently ran his own calculations, using sunflower yields from the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Casselton and Minot, N.D., testing locations for the seven-year period 1979-85. . . . [T]he overall average yield of hybrids tested at Casselton (southeastern North Dakota) came out 20 percent higher than 894.  Yields at Minot (north central North Dakota) averaged just two percent above 894 during this period.  However, the advantage of the highest-yielding hybrids over 894 averaged 29 percent at Minot and 23 percent at Casselton.”
       Sunflower Suits Southeast Growers / By Skip Bye — “Sunflower in Georgia?  How about Carolina?  Sure, why not.  Although sunflower acreage in the Deep South is still quite limited, the crop has been grown successfully by a number of southern farmers since the 1970s.  In a region famed for its cotton and peanuts, sunflower has grabbed a toehold because it fits into some farmers’ rotations and usually requires no additional equipment expense.
       “Bob Youman’s farm is located in the midst of the Coastal Plains region.  The Furman, S.C., producer grows everything from cotton, soybeans and corn to wheat, rye and vegetable crops.  He added sunflower to his rotation about a decade ago and is now seeding from 400 to 800 acres of the crop each year.
       “Less than 100 miles to the west, Jon Shivers plants from 400 to 600 acres of sunflower per year on his farm at Louisville, Ga.  Shivers, who also produces cotton, soybeans and various other crops, has grown sunflower for three years.
       “Both men, like various other southeastern farmers, plant sunflower because of its advantages as an alternate crop in their rotations.  The Southeast historically has been a large producer of cotton and peanuts.  Cotton lost some of its popularity as the boll weevil became increasingly difficult to manage, causing many farmers to turn toward other crops.  Meanwhile, any expansion of peanut production was stymied by a complex government quota system.  Soybeans have proven to be an acceptable alternative for many farmers; but the beans must contend with some serious nematode problems.”
       He’s Sold on Narrow-Row Seeding System / By Skip Bye — “Donn Yatskis jumped into sunflower production five years ago.  Like many other growers in traditionally small grain areas, he chose to use as much of his existing equipment as possible to hold down production costs.  That meant utilizing his Kirschman grain drill rather than investing in a row-crop planter.  So for the past several years, the Buchanan, N.D., farmer has been drilling his sunflower in narrow rows — and with favorable results.
       “The key, says Yatskis, is to meter the seeds while planting in order to obtain an appropriate plant stand.  He sows in 18-inch rows, with a 16-inch interval between in-row seeds.  Thus each plant is roughly equidistant from adjacent plants within the row as well as in neighboring rows.  Yatskis gets his best results by using size four planting seed. He says the drill handles the smaller seeds more efficiently, allowing him to meter them effectively as he goes along.  By metering, he is able to monitor the seeding rate closely and avoid excessive populations.
       “According to Yatskis, there are two distinct advantages to solid-seeded (i.e., narrow-row) sunflower.  The first is a faster-maturing crop and resultingly quicker drydown.  The second is an increase in the seeds’ oil content. . . .
         “Narrow-row production does, however, magnify the importance of early weed control.  Because he does not cultivate his solid-seeded sunflower, Yatskis relies on herbicides to handle weeds.  After applying Treflan in either late fall or early spring, he makes at least two passes with a field cultivator, incorporating the herbicide thoroughly.  In addition, Yatskis pulls the field cultivator ahead of his drill at planting time, helping knock out early weeds and speeding germination by providing a moist seedbed.”
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