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A Whole Lot of ’Flowers

Monday, November 25, 2019
filed under: Rotation

The western South Dakota horizon is a broad one. This 2019 Eisenbraun confection sunflower field stretches five miles in length. That's Bear Butte in the background, some 20 miles distant.
Scot Eisenbraun’s field of confection sunflower just north of Rapid City, S.D., stretches farther than the eye can see.

“This field is about five miles long,” Eisenbraun says. “And that’s just one of our sunflower fields.”

In all, Eisenbraun planted about 7,000 acres of sunflower this year.  That’s actually below average for this South Dakota producer.

“I planted about 6,000 acres of corn this year. Normally I only plant 1,000 acres of corn and the rest of those acres are sunflower.”

While the size of these fields and the number of acres Eisenbraun farms may seem like a lot, he explains that his is a pretty normal operation in western South Dakota.

“I wish I could farm 1,000 acres by my house and not have to drive 50 miles to some of my fields; but I can’t make a living that way,” he says. 

So, Eisenbraun has expanded beyond his home place, renting land up to 50 miles away, including this five-mile confection sunflower field.  It is on rented ground north of Box Elder, S.D. 

And it takes more than just one crop to make a living.  In addition to sunflower, you’ll also find winter wheat, spring wheat, corn and yellow edible peas.  Add in the 800 head of cattle the Eisenbrauns raise, and this farm and ranch is exactly what one would expect to find in west river South Dakota. 

Of those 800 cattle, every year about 100 go to the Red Rock Restaurant in Wall.  Eisenbraun is a partner in the business and is happy to provide locally raised beef to customers there.  Last year, Eisenbraun donated beef to the Wall school district to use in their school lunch program. It’s part of his effort to give back to his community. 

He’s also tossed around the idea of putting in a cold press on the farm to press their own sunflower.  If he did that, Eisenbraun says he would use the sunflower byproduct for cattle feed. 

Eisenbraun has a lot of irons in the fire, but he doesn’t do it alone.

“This farm supports a lot of families; we’ve got 10 full-time employees and two or three guys that help out when we need them, so that’s a lot of people to provide for. “

Eisenbraun’s home place is near Wall, S.D. —just off Interstate 90, about 45 miles east of Rapid City. The land at Wall has been in the Eisenbraun family for generations.

“I am the sixth generation to farm this land. My sons, Tyrel and Taran, are the seventh, and my grandsons will be the eighth.  They’re only three and one, and there’s another on the way, but they’re the next generation,” says Eisenbraun. “I grew up on this place, but I didn’t always know I’d always be here.”

Eisenbraun left the farm for a couple of years and headed west to California, where he worked on trucks in Los Angeles and San Diego.  But after a time in the big city, he realized he didn’t want to raise a family there.  So he moved back to South Dakota, got married and had three sons.  He’s been here ever since.
Sixth-generation South Dakota farmer Scot Eisenbraun planted 7,000 acres of sunflower in 2019. He was anticipating a very good crop as of late October.

Sunflower has been a part of the Eisenbraun crop rotation since the mid-1990s. 

“I replaced safflower with sunflower,” he recounts.  “I raised safflower for 10 years, and it just wasn’t making any money. I remember having this really good-looking safflower crop. I thought it was going to make a ton, but I went out with the combine and it hardly made 200 pounds an acre. That’s when I decided to be done with safflower and try something new.”

That decision has turned out to be one of the best Eisenbraun has made as a farmer. 

“Sunflower for me is a staple, like winter wheat.  They’re here to stay for me,” Eisenbraun explains. “It’s important to break the disease cycle for your small grains.  Sunflower is my way of breaking the disease cycle.  I like to do corn, followed by sunflower, so the ground actually gets a two-year break from wheat.                   

“Spring wheat after sunflower works really well. This year I tried some corn in last year’s sunflower fields, and it worked.  I’m going to do more of that.                                                      

“Sunflower uses a lot of nutrients and breaks up the hard pan.  They have such a deep root that really helps break up the soil. And sunflower fits our climate so well.  They work well in dry years and wet years.”

When it comes to wet years, 2019 might top the charts.  Average rainfall here runs about 14” a year; so far this year, there’s been 28” of rain — and in early October, there was snow.  Despite Mother Nature, Eisenbraun says this sunflower crop could be his best ever.

“I’ve got 150-bushel corn, and I think my sunflower is going to outdo the corn,” he says.  “This year, we planted  half confections and half conoils.  We’ve grown every sunflower known to man. Usually I go one-third of each — confections, conoils and oils — but this year I didn’t get any oils planted.  I seem to get better yields out of conoils and confections, so this year I planted what I know works best.”

The 2019 planting season was a challenge. Eisenbraun says they battled rain all spring and finished planting sunflower on June 15, the last day for insurance. They used three planters to finish planting in time.  “We were lucky to get them planted when we did. It rained and rained and rained,” he says.

The confection sunflower Eisenbraun harvests ends up at Advanced Sunflower in Huron, S.D., where the seeds will be packaged under the Wild Dutchman™ brand.  Eisenbraun likes that his product is being processed in his home state. 

“It’s a true South Dakota story, from start to finish.”
Danny Dale (left) of Advanced Sunflower, Huron, SD says Scot Eisenbraun and his sons, Tyrel and Taran, "are pioneers when it comes to growing confection sunflower in the western South Dakota area."

It’s a story the folks at Advanced Sunflower hope continues for many more years. 

“Scot’s sons are right in the mix working with him, and we hope they’re raising the eighth generation of Eisenbrauns to farm the land, and to continue growing sunflower,” says Danny Dale of Advanced Sunflower.  “Scot and his sons are pioneers when it comes to growing confection sunflower in the western South Dakota area.  They made the decision to switch and the commitment to learn how to grow very nice confections.     

“Sometimes those lessons came the hard way, but at Advanced Sunflower we are very proud to work with growers of this caliber.  They have produced some very nice-quality sunflower for us and continue to go the extra mile to get the job done right.”
Eisenbraun hopes his South Dakota sunflower story might inspire other growers to give the crop a try. He’s watched soybeans take over farmland in central South Dakota, where sunflower once ruled. 

“I can see sunflower moving out our way more.  We need to convince growers that sunflower works great here,” he says. “My sunflower crop looks really good this year. It is going to be by far my best money crop I have.”

Dale says Eisenbraun’s 2019 sunflower crop might just convince others to plant sunflower in 2020.  He says confection sunflower is a crop that fits perfectly in the western South Dakota climate, and work ethic.

“As an industry, we need more acres of confections; and if one grower in an area tries it and has good luck, then their neighbors might just make the decision to grow some in the coming years.  

“There is a big opportunity for profit in growing confections in western South Dakota,” Dale affirms.  “It takes hard work and dedication to do it right.  Scot and his boys are used to hard work, as I think most of these west river farmers and ranchers are.  We’d love to see more of them growing confection sunflower in the near future.”
— Jody Kerzman      
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