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You Are Here Sunflower Magazine > A Look Back - 30 Years Ago

Sunflower Magazine

A Look Back - 30 Years Ago
December 2013

Trial Data: Your Key to Informed Hybrid Selections / By Jerry Miller, USDA-ARS sunflower geneticist — “Several reasons could be cited as to why a sunflower producer might want to try a new hybrid. First and foremost would be increased yield potential and/or higher oil percentage. But there might also be other advantages to a new hybrid: a certain height preference, uniformity in flowering or maturity, improved stalk strength or better disease resistance, to mention a few. Whatever the reason(s), producers are always seeking the best seed for their particular production conditions.

“The best information available for making well-educated seed buying decisions consists of the various pamphlets, brochures and yield trial data available through private seed companies and university extension services. . . . Better decisions can be made if yield data are gathered from several companies, and trials are more useful if they have similar checks or ‘standards’ which can be compared with new or improved hybrids.”

1,800 Hours on a 50/50 Blend — “Tom Alme is a record setter. When he parked his Case 2590 this fall, the Balfour, N.D., farmers had chalked up some 1,800 hours on it over the past three years while burning a 50/50 sunflower oil/diesel fuel blend. To his knowledge and that of ag engineers at North Dakota State University, no other tractor in the world has operated under actual field conditions for that length of time while employing a veg oil/diesel mix.

“Alme is one of the farmer/participants in Flower Power, Inc., a nonprofit group formed three years ago to test various sun oil/diesel blends in totally unmodified tractor engines under field conditions. The project originally involved 12 tractors — four each of three different makes. Two of the manufacturers provided their tractors to the growers on lease, while the other installed new engines in the farmers’ tractors for the project. All 12 farmers were from northeastern and north central North Dakota.

“Due to funding restrictions, Flower Power has continued with just six tractors during the past two years. Three of the six tractors in the project as of 1983 were running on a 25/75 sun oil/#2 diesel blend, while the other three burned a 50/50 ratio. . . .

“One of the six ’83 participants experienced repeated engine failure due to broken cam followers and decided to withdraw from the project. The other five, Alme included, plan to run again next year, however. Their engines will be disassembled and examined in late December for evidence of excessive wear and/or deposit buildup.

“Power tests and fuel consumption ratings conducted during the past production season gave no indication of power loss or above-normal fuel use, according to Jon Walter, NDSU research associate working with Flower Power. Fuel additives have helped alleviate some previous carbon accumulation problems.”

Establishing a Pattern / By Bruce Hovland, manager of Interstate Seed Company’s division office at Gonvick, Minn. — “It is simple, yet complex; variable, yet constant; perplexing, yet understandable. It is a pattern each grower must identify.

“Confused? So was I. Year after year, season after season, I kept hearing groans of disappointment from one farmer concerning his sunflower yields and songs of jubilation from another. And as it turned out, the disappointed was often a neighbor of the jubilant.

“The locale didn’t seem to matter. The scenario repeated itself from northern Minnesota to northwestern North Dakota. And the ‘why’ of it all troubled me. So I began to look for answers. . . .

“What were these top producers doing in order to consistently harvest a significantly better crop than their neighbors? I concluded the main difference was that these men had, in fact, established a pattern. . . . [N]Naturally some of the ingredients within the patterns will vary from grower to grower and area to area. But in conversations within several of these top producers, I’ve concluded that amid all the variables there are some constants — regardless of geographic location:

• “They all treat sunflower as a high-management crop, deserving first-rate attention. It doesn’t always go on the poorest ground; in western North Dakota, for example, it might even be planted on summer fallow.

• “Weed control is excellent in all cases, and insect control is initiated if necessary.

• “The producers fertilize for maximum yields. Most soil test and apply 80 to 100 units of nitrogen.

• “They begin harvesting when seed moisture is 15 to 20 percent. And once they start, they try to keep going until finished. . . .

“Sunflower has proven to be a wonderfully adapted crop for the Upper Midwest region. For the average grower, it will usually return a reasonable profit on investment. And for the above-average grower, the crop is even kinder. We should not dismiss these consistently top producers’ success as simple luck. That does not adequately explain it.”

Research Center Planning $$$ Okayed — “Plans for a USDA sunflower and sugarbeet research facility on the campus of North Dakota State University continue to move ahead. Earlier this fall, Congress okayed a resolution, initiated by Sen. Mark Andrews (R-ND), to provide $800,000 for planning and other preliminary work. These funds will be channeled through the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. ARS officials have been meeting with NDSU leaders for discussions on the building’s function, design and operation. Actual construction funds have not yet been appropriated.”

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