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Spring & Summer Sunflower Thoughts

Written by Kevin Swanson

Ideas to help increase yields and oil content...

High yield should be the #1 priority and oil content #2. Start with seed varieties that are well suited to your area of production. Seed dealers and seed supplier representatives can help you pinpoint which varieties are working best in your area. Earlier planting dates have been proven to produce the highest yields AND highest oil contents. May 20th planting date was identified as having the highest yield and oil content in a field trial here on the high plains. Earlier planting can provide ideal soil temperatures for seedling survival and better soil moisture levels which can help with nice, even population stands. Good plant spacing is critical to more than just yield and oil content; it helps with weed control. Spend some time checking your planter to make sure it is dropping single seeds evenly spaced. Ideal planting depth is 1 3/4" to 2". Some research indicates higher plant populations can produce higher yield and oil content. So, try experimenting on your farm with seed variety trials, some different planting dates, and varying population rates.

Sunflower Plant Health...

Help keep your money in the bank by soil testing. A minimum soil test of 2' is recommended, but 3' is best. Check for the level of residual Nitrogen before adding more. Too much Nitrogen can be detrimental! Do your best to manage fertilization with estimated water availability for the season. Sometimes a starter fertilizer is all that is needed. If you have the ability to irrigate sunflowers, remember timing is everything. Moisture is required to germinate the seeds, but during the growth stages, DO NOT overwater the plants. Only water when the plants are displaying drought stress first thing in the morning, don't worry if the plants look droopy in the afternoon. Over watering during the pre-bud development growth stages will cause taller plant height with thinner stalks and larger leaf growth, usually forming smaller heads that can be prone to lodging. Save any water available to irrigate during bud development R-1 to the R-7 stage. The R-7 stage is the point when the backs of the heads start to turn a pale yellow. If you have limited irrigation, save the water timing to the R-4 to R-7 stage to get the most out of your water usage. The R-4 stage is when the sunflower head is just starting to open the bloom and you can start seeing some yellow.

Marketing Options...

Colorado Mills is currently offering a 2021 Acre Contract for High Oleic Sunflowers. This contract includes all your production for the acres contracted. Identical to an Act of God contract, this covers you in the event of adverse weather or other detrimental circumstances. Colorado Mills adds a grower incentive of $0.20/cwt for each of the last 5 years you have delivered your crop to us up to a maximum of $1 premium (first year growers do receive the $0.20/cwt incentive!) And don't forget that additional oil premiums are paid when sunflowers contain over 40% oil. Give us a call to discuss your contracting needs or get our current new crop contract price at (719) 336-8452, or email

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