The National Sunflower Association of Canada is upping its agronomy game with the addition of a new staff agronomist.
Even though Ed Stroeder, who’s based in Gladstone, is barely a month into his new job, he was front and centre this week at the Manitoba Crop Symposium.
Agronomy is a challenge for the Canadian industry because it’s different from sunflower production systems in other regions. Manitoba grows close to 90 per cent of the Canadian crop and more than 90 per cent of the sunflower acres are planted to confection varieties.
“Everywhere else is growing oilseed varieties,” Stroeder told growers during his presentation Feb. 8. “We suspect that’s because we have no crushing plant to process oilseed sunflowers, and at the same time we grow excellent confection sunflowers.”
And even within the Canadian industry there appears to be two distinct production systems evolving. In the Red River Valley, where the crop was introduced decades ago by the first Mennonite settlers in the region, sunflowers are planted with row-crop equipment and many growers continue to conduct in-row tillage to kill weeds.
“In the western part of Manitoba they’re using air seeders and they’re solid seeding and relying more on chemical weed control,” said Stroeder.
There are also small sunflower acres in the other two Prairie provinces. Stroeder estimates 5,000 to 10,000 acres in Saskatchewan and maybe 3,000 acres a year in Alberta. “We certainly want to help our neighbours develop the industry, but most of our interests are definitely in Manitoba,” he said.
Stroeder highlighted NSAC’s ongoing survey efforts, which involved scouting and surveying fields for crop staging and weed, insect and disease emergence. The findings are then distributed to growers in a weekly report that includes alerts about emerging production issues and even current photos of pests, diseases and weeds to aid in identification.
“There were 14 reports in 2010 and 13 in 2009,” Stroeder said.
The association plans to run the survey and reports at least another year, then will be reviewing the effort at the end of the season to help the association refine its efforts going forward.
The crop protection product Authority has been registered for weed control in sunflowers in Manitoba, but growers were cautioned that it’s not necessarily a simple product to use.
“Things like your soil pH, organic matter level and soil type – all that can impact the efficacy of this product,” Stroeder said. “Talk to your chemical rep, read the label and make sure you’re getting the most out of this product.”
The registration of the fungicide Headline was a big help controlling rust last year. The new product and general disease conditions combined to keep a lid of the problem in the 2010 crop.
“I think Headline certainly made growers more prepared this year,” Stroeder said. “We also suspect that there may have been less overwintering last year. There just seemed to be lower pressure.”
When rust is found in a sunflower field, it’s not necessarily a disaster, Stroeder stressed. With proper management, such as scouting and fungicide applications according to threshholds, the damage can be contained.
“If you find it, don’t panic – scout,” Stroeder told the meeting. He also said growers should never mix their fungicide and herbicide applications.
Sclerotinia was also found in sunflower fields last season, with the first occurrence being detected Aug. 10. Stroeder said growers are generally doing a good job of keeping up sunflower rotations, but that other susceptible crops in the rotation can undermine those efforts.
“They’re planting their sunflowers three or four years apart, but they’ll plant sunflowers a year after another susceptible crop like canola,” Stroeder said. “That means more sclerotia in the soil, and it’s definitely economics that’s driving this.”
NSAC has been lobbying seed companies to develop resistant varieties, but Stroeder says the indications so far suggest any new varieties are still “a few years away.”
Insects continue to be a perennial challenge to growers, especially lygus bugs and sunflower moths.
The 2010 field survey found lygus in 45 per cent of surveyed fields. Matador has been registered for control, with an economic threshhold of one bug per nine sunflower heads. But Stroeder noted taking a bigger-picture view is important when making spray decisions.
“Be aware that there are good bugs and there are bad bugs,” he said. “You could damage or kill the predatory insects as well.”
The 2010 survey found sunflower moths were “up significantly” from 2009 levels, Stroeder said. There is currently no registered control for this pest in sunflowers.
A survey of blackbird damage in a dozen fields across Manitoba found damage ranging from zero to 100 per cent.
“We intend to present this data to Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation,” Stroeder said. “We feel blackbirds should fall under the standard wildlife damage in crop insurance.”
Stroeder wrapped up his presentation by urging growers to register to participate in both the field survey and a further survey on sclerotinia management that they were partnering on with the chemical company DuPont. It consists of three short online surveys that will monitor how growers are approaching this disease and what’s working and what’s not. The data will be held by the NASC and privacy is assured, he said.
“We want to identify and develop best management practices that will improve the overall quality of sunflowers in Manitoba,” Stroeder said.
“It’s simple to do – the longest survey is five questions, and that includes, ‘What’s your NSAC number?’”
– ED STROEDER