Manitoba sunflower crops are looking good, the problem is there just aren’t that many this year.
More than half of the province’s sunflowers are grown in southwestern Manitoba National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) president Kelly Dobson said Aug. 19, during a tour of the Manitoba Crop Evaluation Trials’ (MCVET) sunflower plots. A wet spring saw a record number of acres go unseeded across the province.
The NSAC estimates Manitoba farmers planted around 34,000 acres of sunflowers, down from 160,000 in 2010.
Of the 34,000 around 19,500 are confectionery and the rest oilseed sunflowers.
“I’m encouraged,” Dobson said when asked about this year’s crop.
Although spring was excessively wet, the sunflowers that did get seeded are responding well to the drier weather and heat.
Downy mildew is showing up in some fields, even where resistant varieties were planted, probably because of the cool, wet spring. But sclerotinia, the bane of sunflower growers because no fungicides are registered to control it, has been less prevalent, NSAC agronomist Claire Kincaid said.
Two or three fungicides for sclerotinia control in sunflowers have been submitted for registration, including DuPont’s Vertisan and BASF’s Lance.
To avoid disease and insect problems, the standard recommendation is to grow sunflowers on the same land only once every four years. But Fred Parnow, Canada business manager of Seeds 2000, said he thinks five or six years would be better.
“The buyers I think would rather see farmers plant a tenth of their acres (to sunflowers every year) rather than a fourth of their acres and end up with a better crop,” he said. “Four years is the standard answer but I think it needs to be longer than that, I really do. (It would be) better for everybody.”
Sunflowers take more management than many other crops, but over the last couple of years farmers have been getting some new tools, “not least of which would be sulfentrazone, which is Authority (herbicide) from Nufarm, which is a big plus,” Dobson said.
It controls some tough weeds, including Group 2-resistant kochia.
Seed companies are also developing new sunflower varieties tolerant to DuPont’s Express herbicide and Clearfield herbicides. Seeds 2000 is testing X9180, the first Express-tolerant confectionery sunflower seed grown in Manitoba, Parnow said. Seed will be multiplied in Chile this winter and be available for sale next spring in Manitoba.
X9822 is a new high-oleic oil variety, which might have a fit here, Parnow said. It will be grown under an identity-preserved contract.
With so much forced summerfallow this year, 2012 could be a good year to plant sunflowers, Dobson said. Sunflowers prefer black (warm), weed-free soil in the spring, he said.
A return to normal moisture conditions would help too. Sunflowers also fare better than many crops under, dry, hot conditions. While crops aren’t in the bin yet, Dobson expects sunflowers will yield better this year than a lot of canola.
Sunflowers – especially confectionery – are one of the few “special crops” farmers in western Manitoba can grow, he said.
“And some years it has been extremely lucrative, but it’s not without its risks.”
Growing for the human food market is a challenge. It starts with selecting the right variety and then establishing an evenly spaced crop to encourage the production of big sunflower heads and big seed. That’s best done seeding sunflowers in rows using a planter, Dobson said.
“We have been well compensated by growing in rows,” he said. “Even if you have to get them custom done, which we have done, it pays because it gives you options like in-row tillage. It’s well worth the effort.
“It’s not just about the pounds – it’s that seed sample and how many seeds make the jumbo size. That’s where the value is. It’s not in the bird food.”