Return to the Valley

Although not as prominent as they were in the late ’70s and early ’80s, sunflowers are slowly making it back into the Red River Valley.

Return to the Valley

Although not as prominent as they were in the late ’70s and early ’80s, sunflowers are slowly making it back into the Red River Valley.

Kevin Capistran, a National Sunflower Association director, is encouraged to see sunflowers return to the area. He currently grows wheat, barley, soybeans, sugarbeets and sunflowers northeast of Crookston, Minn.

“In the past, there were quite a few acres of sunflowers in the Crookston area. But sunflower midge was prevalent, and farmers were looking for another rotation crop. About this time soybeans starting showing up,” says Capistran. Many sunflower acres dropped off as soybean acres, and then corn acres took over.

Capistran says sunflower genetics and herbicides have improved from the past.

“In the past for controlling sunflower beetle, you would have had to spray. Now, growers can apply Cruiser seed treatment, and you don’t have to spray for insects early on. The weed and insect control have gotten better, and improved breeding has made for better hybrids.”

Minnesota organized the Minnesota Sunflower Research & Promotion Council in the fall of 2009, giving Minnesota growers input and a voice in NSA programs. Capistran has been on the board since its inception. MSRPC established a checkoff to fund research, which will include sclerotinia, since that’s the biggest problem most Minnesota sunflower growers face.

“There has been a lot of time and money going into screening and nursery issues. This past spring, funds were used to ramp up a nursery at the University of Minnesota Crookston research station, ” Capistran says.

4-year rotation

Since sclerotinia is also Capistran’s biggest challenge, one solution that works for him is not planting the flowers in a tight rotation. In fact, his rotation for sunflowers is at least four or more years between crops. “You need to work at maintaining population, making sure air flow in the crop is good, because if you grow for hulling, you tend to have a lower population anyway to keep the size up,” he says.

Controlling white mold is another issue. “If you desiccate, you can sometimes stop the spreading and proliferation of white mold that hasn’t gotten started in the head.” While there are a few things you can do to manage it, there is nothing you can do to prevent it, he acknowledges.

Capistran grows oil sunflowers and has produced yields between 2,200 and 2,400 pounds or higher. “To have a true confection that you can roast, we have been targeting an oil-type variety that is big enough to be hulled,” he says.

With improved quality traits and increased yields, Capistran hopes to see more producers grow sunflowers. “The opportunity is there,” he says.

Dufault writes from Red Lake Falls, Minn.

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RISING SUNS: Kevin Capistran sees more sunflowers in the Red River Valley where they were once a leading cash crop.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.

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