With lower commodity prices, profit margins have tightened or in some cases evaporated. Everyone is looking for ways to maximize yields to generate as much revenue as possible to cash flow. So how do we augment the return per acre?
One way to do this is to have a strong focus on research. Since its establishment, the National Sunflower Association (NSA) has committed itself to providing funds to public researchers to find ways to lower production costs, increase quality and obtain higher yields. Agricultural research is critically important in that it is the only way to find new paths to combat developing strains of fungi, bacteria, weeds, insects and other pests that can destroy crops. It is also the only way to find new sunflower hybrids that we hope will yield better, be more disease and insect resistant, with better overall trait packages.
“In the past two years, it seems like you had to hit a home run on every crop just to break even,” states Lance Hourigan, NSA vice president and Lemmon, S.D., producer. “It goes without saying that investing in research that can increase quality and obtain higher yields is critically important to enhancing the bottom line. Improving profitability to sunflower growers and the sunflower industry is the primary goal when the NSA Board of Directors makes research funding decisions.”
How Are NSA Research Projects Funded?
NSA research is mainly funded with checkoff funds from Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. To increase the amount of financial resources, the sunflower industry also pitches in. The NSA Confection and High Plains committees contribute a portion of their funds to research projects. These 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 and industry dollars,” says Clark Coleman, NSA president and Bismarck, N.D., producer. “There is always risk in growing any crop. As an industry, we need to constantly look for ways to mitigate risk and make producing sunflower easier to keep producers interested in the crop,” Coleman adds.
How Are Research Priorities Determined and Projects Chosen?
To help prioritize research areas, the NSA maintains a research committee made up of researchers, industry leaders and sunflower producers representing all major sunflower states. The committee met in early September to set research priorities for the upcoming year. After priorities were set, requests for pre-proposals were sent to researchers across the country. Having pre-proposals helps NSA prioritize which proposals move on to the full proposal phase.
After full proposals are received, the committee will meet again in early January to review the submitted proposals and score them based on scientific merit and cost. “This system seems to be the best method to evaluate and recommend the top research projects to fund in the most unbiased way,” says Robert Weigelt of FMC Corporation and chairman of the NSA Research Committee. “It allows NSA board members to make pragmatic funding decisions based on the composite score each proposal receives that takes into account scientific merit and cost.”
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 below specifies “areas of interest” outlined by the NSA Research Committee. This is not an exclusive list, however, and the committee will consider all production areas of research.
Research Areas of Interest
(Not necessarily listed in order of priority.)
Production Issues —
- Improve genetic progress in sunflower to enhance competitiveness with other crops and stability of yield and quality, using SNPs or other genomic tools.
- Blackbirds: Innovative and new approaches to reduce damage, especially discovery of repellents and/or changes to plant physical characteristics.
- Factors related to achieving an adequate plant stand. This could include early season sunflower plant screening for stand, seeding depth, seed-to-soil closure and contact, soil temperature/moisture, seedling vigor, seed biology, insects/diseases and interactions.
- Methods, techniques, or equipment for applying fungicides for control of diseases and enhancing yield. Issues of timing and tank mixing of fungicides with insecticides/herbicides are of interest. There is also a need for efficacy studies for using adjuvants with labeled and newer not-yet-labeled fungicides.
- Development of management strategies to address emerging soil issues such as tolerance to saline/sodic soils and possible effects of low pH soils.
- Evaluation of IPM strategies (scouting, trapping, thresholds, insecticide testing especially new modes of action, cultural, biological) for control of economically important insect pests of sunflower, including: sunflower head moth, banded sunflower moth, red sunflower seed weevil, Lygus bug, Dectes stem borer, wireworm and others.
- Screen suspected insecticide resistance for economically important insect pests of sunflower.
- Screen hybrid and breeding material for insect resistance.
- Study the direct and secondary benefits of pollinators, including honeybees and native bees, in sunflower production.
- Determine the economic costs and benefits of using pesticide seed treatments and application innovations to control wireworms and cutworms.
- Innovative weed control strategies using older and new chemistries to address Palmer amaranth, horseweed (marestail), ragweed, waterhemp, barnyard grass and glyphosate-resistant kochia, pre/burndown and/or post emerge.
- Encourage research for new desiccant active ingredients.
- Weed species shifts, due to resistance/tolerance to common modes of action, need to be considered for burndown uses, as well as existing post systems like Clearfield® and Express®Sun. This priority could include burndown product-safe planting interval definition for all effective herbicides, including older products like 2,4-D, as well as preservation and MOA resistance management for the post-emerge Group #1 grass products. Group #1 additive strategies might include pre-plant, pre (and/or) early post application of non-group #1 MOAs. Foxtail, brome species and non-Group #1 wild oat options need to be better defined and demonstrated for sunflower producers.
- Interest in innovative weed control techniques related to existing labels and to test experimental or new-to-market herbicides and use of weed seed-free cover crops for potential sunflower application. More research may need a fall-applied timing data and demonstration focus, versus current spring season-only weed control, to reduce spring emerging populations. Fall herbicide timings, both residual products and burndown chemistry, might enhance control compared to standard spring/summer-only strategies.
- Group 15 efficacy demonstrations including improving pigweed species control and how modes of action used in sunflower can benefit rotation crops such as wheat and corn.
Product Utilization —
- Phomopsis stem canker is the #1 disease priority for the National Sunflower Association. Proposals aimed at improving (or leading to the improvement) of disease management tools are strongly encouraged. Additionally, collaboration with other commodity groups (such as soybeans) are encouraged. Recommendations include, but are not limited to: a) epidemiology, biology and etiology of pathogen (s); b) fungicides or biological control; c) genetics of the pathogen and/or host leading to host resistance; d) a better understanding of the economic impact of the disease.
- Rust, including identifying races and the control of rust via genetic resistance and fungicide application.
- 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.
- Rhizopus can be a concern after the head is damaged by insects, hail or other impacts. Determining if there are management strategies to reduce the impact of the disease is important for growers.
- Address emerging, economically important diseases affecting sunflower production through diagnosis and development of management strategies.
- Sclerotinia research proposals should be directed to the National Sclerotinia Initiative.
For those who would like to learn more about what is happening in sunflower research, consider tuning in to the upcoming NSA Sunflower Research Forum. (The 2021 Forum will be held via a Zoom webinar due to ongoing concerns with Covid-19.)
- Looking for novel compounds in seed that have intrinsic values.
The purpose of the annual Sunflower Research Forum is to report on research, to promote discussion and to stimulate creative thinking.
The 2021 National Sunflower Association Sunflower Research Forum is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 13, and conclude at noon on Thursday the 14th. Click here for more details:
Should you not be able to listen in to the 2021 Research Forum, you can learn more about NSA-funded research projects by clicking here
. There you’ll find an online searchable database of more than 30 years of sunflower research papers.
* John Sandbakken is executive director of the National Sunflower Association.