Sunflowers can be frustrating but profitable

Manitoba’s sunflower crop is holding its own but sclerotinia could still hit hard

Despite inclement weather and legions of lygus bugs, Manitoba’s sunflower crop is looking good this season — at least for now.

“So far it’s OK, we’ll see about sclerotinia damage in the next while, I haven’t seen very much head rot yet, but we still have essentially six weeks to go for this crop,” said Anastasia Kubinec, an oilseed specialist with Manitoba Agriculture. “You can do everything right, then get two days of bad weather, and it’s out of your control.”

If plants are hit with sclerotinia at the R-5.1 or the R-5.5 stage — the time between when the flower opens and when 50 per cent of the head has been pollinated — they can be treated. But once the plants are past the flowering stage, there is nothing that can be done to fight sclerotinia, she said.

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“That’s the time when you actually can do something for head rot, but beyond that, if we get a big rainstorm… there is really nothing producers can do,” Kubinec said. “It’s a very frustrating crop that way.”

Producers growing confectionery sunflowers were able to spray for Lygus bugs earlier in the season, right at the time of flowering.

“We’re still not 100 per cent sure of the damage they caused, but that was one thing guys had to look out for,” she said.

The other issue has been weather, a combination of wet soil and strong winds has left areas in some fields uprooted.

“We’ve actually had a lot of plow wind damage in sunflowers this year, which basically… kind of tips the entire plant over, either right at the roots, or breaks it right close to the roots, and that is just due to the excess wind and the very quick growing conditions,” she said, adding that all the wet weather has left plants with less developed root system than in drier years.

While seeds are still forming on the now horizontal victims of the plow winds, harvesting them with standard equipment would be impossible.

“We don’t put the entire plant through the combine, you’re taking the heads off — so it would be very difficult to pick up those heads that are lying on the ground,” explained Kubinec.

Crops insurance isn’t an option for plow wind damage either, at least not in practical terms.

“It would count within their production IPI (Individual Productivity Index) that they have with crops insurance, but the thing about that is that if you have 700 acres of sunflowers and you get a decent yield on 600 acres of them, that other 100 acres just kind of gets averaged in there and it doesn’t really count for anything. It’s not hail, it’s not any sort of extra coverage you can get with that,” she said.

Manitoba has seen a decline in sunflower acres this year, despite early predictions of a 100,000-acre crop. Only 70,000 sunflower acres were actually planted this spring, a decline of about 30 per cent from last season. Kubinec said the crop was a 50/50 split between oilseed and confectionery sunflowers.

“So acres are down, but hopefully the guys who do have sunflowers have a successful year. It can be an extremely profitable crop, even if it can be a little bit frustrating,” said Kubinec. “But the crop that’s out there looks really good, the heads are nice and big, it looks like pollination was really good.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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