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NSA Research Priorities for ’24

Wednesday, October 25, 2023
filed under: Research and Development

By John Sandbakken*
researchers collecting data in field
Photo credit: Don Lilleboe
        Farmers are being asked to produce more food with little or no increase in the amounts of arable land, water or other resources available.  Each day there are more mouths in the world to feed with the same challenges before us.  How do we feed more with less?  There is only one way to do this: by having a strong focus on research.
        Since its inception, the National Sunflower Association has committed itself to providing funds to researchers to stimulate new research or continue with ongoing sunflower research that may result in lower production costs, increased quality and higher yields.
        According to Tom Kirkmeyer, NSA president and Brighton, Colo., producer, “Research is paramount to the sunflower industry and is the only way to find solutions to combat new strains of fungi, bacteria, weeds, insects and other pests that can destroy your sunflower crop.  It is also the best way to find new hybrids which we hope will yield better, be more disease resistant and more drought-tolerant,” he adds.
        NSA-supported research is mainly funded with grower checkoff funds from Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota and the two Dakotas.  To increase the overall pool of financial resources, the sunflower industry also pitches in funding. 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 board member, former president and Bismarck, N.D., area producer.  “If sunflower is to remain competitive going forward, we must continue making investments in research — and, look for ways to do that in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” Coleman states.
        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 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 moved on to the full proposal phase. After full proposals are received, the committee will meet 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 impartial way,” says Robert Weigelt of FMC Corporation, chairman of the NSA Research Committee.  “It allows NSA board members to make prudent funding decisions based on the composite score each proposal receives, taking into account scientific merit and cost.”
        The list below specifies “areas of interest” for 2024 as outlined by the NSA Research committee.  This is not an exclusive list; the committee will consider all production areas of research.
Research Areas of Interest
(Not listed in order of priority)
Production Issues —
        1.  Improved genetic progress in sunflower is the #1 production priority for the National Sunflower Association to enhance competitiveness with other crops and improve stability of yield and quality using genomic tools.
        2.  We need more local/regional focused varietal screening, including extension and industry, public and private lines.  Inadequate resourcing is always an issue.
        3.  Blackbirds:  Innovative and new approaches to reduce damage, especially discovery of repellents and/or changes to plant physical characteristics.
        4.  Factors related to optimizing yield.  This could include early season sunflower plant screening for stand, seeding depth, seed-to-soil closure and contact, variable seeding rates, soil temperature/ moisture, seed dormancy, seedling vigor, and stand establishment in low pH soils. 
        5.  Development of new genetic screening and management strategies to address emerging soil issues, such as tolerance to saline/sodic soils and possible effects of low pH soils.
        6.  Adaptation of sunflower as a stable and resilient cropping alternative in view of climate change and variability.
        7.  Early, mid- and later planting date studies are needed to mitigate insects, diseases and crop maturity effects from too early and/or too late planting on a state and or regional basis.
        8.  Investigate sunflower seed treatments’ multi-mode of action packages to address insects, diseases and/or nutrient utilization, including biological materials.
Insects —
        1.  Red Sunflower Seed Weevil challenges are inhibiting South Dakota sunflower acreage.  The issue is larger than just insecticide resistance and may also include RSSW biology, genetics and seasonal population dispersion.  An “All of the Above” approach is needed.
        2.  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, midge, wireworm and others.
        3.  Screen suspected insecticide resistance for economically important insect pests of sunflower.
        4.  Screen hybrid and breeding material for insect resistance.
        5.  Study the direct and secondary benefits of pollinators including honeybees and native bees in sunflower production.
        6.  Determine the economic costs and benefits of using pesticide seed treatments and application innovations to control wireworms and cutworms.
Weeds —
        1.  Innovative weed control strategies using existing and experimental chemistries to address palmer amaranth, horseweed (marestail), ragweed, waterhemp, barnyard grass and multiple MOA resistant kochia, pre/burndown and/or post emerge, and/or fall timing and demonstration.
        2.  Encourage research for new desiccant active ingredients.
        3.  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.  The issue is especially severe with kochia resistance in the Dakotas.
        4.  Encourage research for new spring burndown herbicide alternatives.
        5.  Define herbicide sunflower safe planting intervals, even during a drought. Preservation of and MOA resistance management for the post-emerge Group #1 grass products.  Group #1 additive strategies might include preplant, pre- (and/or) early post application of non-group #1 MOA’s.  Foxtail, brome species and non-Group #1 wild oat options need to be better defined and demonstrated for sunflower producers.
        6.  Use of weed seed-free cover crops and or rotation crops for potential sunflower applications. 
        7.  Group 15 efficacy demonstrations, including improving pigweed, kochia and grass species control and how layering modes of action used in sunflower can benefit rotation crops such as wheat and corn.  Emphasis on timing (late fall versus spring) for layering residual modes of action to lessen over reliance on spring burndown.
Diseases –
        1.  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.  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.
        2.  Rust, including identifying races and the control of rust via genetic resistance and fungicide application.
        3.  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.
        4.  Rhizopus can be a concern after the head is damaged by insects, hail or other damage. Determining if there are management or mitigating strategies to reduce the impact of the disease is important for growers.
        5.   Address emerging, economically important diseases affecting sunflower production through diagnosis and development of management strategies.
        6.  Resolving Sclerotinia continues to be a high priority.  Grant requests for this disease are to be 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.
Product Utilization & Environmental Impacts —
        1.  Looking for novel compounds in seed that have intrinsic values, including nutrition alternatives.
        2.  Quantification of sunflower’s carbon footprint and its environmental sustainability, including the renewable diesel industry and carbon sequestration impacts.
sunflower head        If you would like to hear more about what is happening in sunflower research, consider attending the annual NSA Sunflower Research Forum. The Forum is a popular event and will be held early next year at the Holiday Inn in Fargo, N.D. 
        The purpose of the Forum is to report on research, to promote discussion and to stimulate creative thinking. The 2024 National Sunflower Association Sunflower Research Forum is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 10, and conclude at noon on Thursday, the 11th. Use this link for more details:
          Aside from the Forum, you can learn more about NSA-funded research projects by going to:  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.
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