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Crop Rotation Benefit with Sunflowers

By May 5, 2015No Comments

By Larry Mueller, Thunder Seed Executive Sales Director

For many years, my family has grown sunflowers and through the challenges, they have seen the goldenrod-colored crop become part of their regular rotation schedule. Here’s some firsthand observations on the advantages of growing sunflowers, including its place in crop rotations.

This broadleaf crop is versatile and profitable. According to the North Dakota State University Sunflower Production Guide, a three-year desirable rotation could include sunflowers, soybeans and wheat with a four-year rotation consisting of sunflowers, wheat, soybeans and corn.

Take a look at some of the benefits of integrating sunflowers into your crop rotation.

1. Minimal moisture needed 
Since sunflowers have extensive taproot systems that reach as far as 5 to 7 inches into the soil, they are better able to handle drought than most other crops, resulting in high production with limited moisture. The taproots reach deeper than other grass crops, like wheat and corn, so they can utilize moisture and nutrients at depths that other crops cannot.

2. Break the disease cycle
An advantage of crop rotation is disease and pest control. In fact, yields increase about 10 percent or more in what is commonly called The Rotation Effect, with the higher yields being attributed to a number of factors working together to reduce disease transmission and pest resistance. Each crop has different diseases that attack it, and when you change the crop, the disease pathogens die. For example, sunflowers should not be planted in the same field more than once every three to four years because of high susceptibility to sclerotinia head rot; the same applies to soybeans because of cyst nematodes. Regular crop rotation also reduces the likelihood of weeds building tolerance to herbicides.

3. Optimal return on investment
Year-after-year, sunflowers are one of the highest economic return crops in North Dakota, according to Projected Crop Budgets from the North Dakota State University Extension Service. This is a result of the high demand in the oleic oil markets and fewer farmers in North Dakota and Minnesota growing this crop than in previous years.

4. Production flexibility
Sunflowers have a large planting window from mid-May to the first of July. This makes it attractive in a planting year where there is excessive moisture in the early spring because you can plant the sunflowers later in the spring and will still produce high yields. The flexibility allows growers to leverage their resources to cover more acres by seeding, spraying and harvesting at different times.

Once you decide that sunflowers fit into your crop rotation, consult your Thunder Seed dealer to lock in the variety that will thrive best in your soil. Whether it’s for the high-oleic or NuSun® markets, our varieties produce excellent yields, high oil content and excellent disease resistance. Learn how to maximize your sunflower seed potential today.