Sunflowers could be an alternative double-crop

This field of sunflowers was planted earlier in spring southeast of Hillsboro and will have no problem ripening in time for fall harvest. But agronomists are saying it?s not too late for producers to plant sunflowers as an alternate double-crop following this summer?s wheat harvest.

The window for double-cropping after the wheat harvest is almost closed if a producer wants to make sure the second crop develops before freezing weather.

This may have been an ideal year for planting soybeans after wheat, considering the high price and high soil moisture to bring beans up. The lure to plant soybeans also was heightened because they fix nitrogen into the soil so that increasingly pricey fertilizer could be avoided.

Producers who did that are in good shape. But Kansas State Extension agronomists are also saying it?s a good time to contemplate sunflowers as an alternate crop.

Daniel O?Brien, agricultural economist at K-State, said double-cropped sunflowers after wheat last fall returned 18.9 percent to annual cost when the yield was 800 pounds an acre, 40.8 percent when the yield was 1,000 pounds an acre, and 60.4 percent when the yield was 1,200 pounds an acre.

Agronomists are recommending that producers go with beans only in years when moisture is adequate under the straw, and that they pray for at least one more rain afterward to bring them on.

Sunflowers can be a little less risky, agronomists said.

Rickey Roberts, Marion County extension agent, has said before that it?s difficult to even count on one hand the number of farmers raising sunflowers in Marion County.

But people from Texas on north in the plains states are lauding the heat and drought resistance of sunflowers for double-cropping, even compared to the more traditionally planted drought-resistant crop, grain sorghum.

Many producers simply chose not to take the chance with expenses required to plant a second crop this year.

Kevin Suderman, agronomist with Cooperative Grain & Supply based in Hillsboro, said second-crop soybean acreage appears to be down this year compared to 2007.

?There was a lot of pretty good wheat this year,? Suderman said. ?The tendency was to get it out, and let (the land) lay. That?s not uncommon when it?s a good crop.?

Suderman said the tendency was greater to plant beans or milo after last year?s wheat harvest because the freeze-out was so devastating. Many producers weren?t going to have anything to sell without a second crop.

A projected shortage in soybean seed just didn?t happen, he said.

?Most guys were able to get the varieties they wanted,? Suderman said.

The case for sunflowers

Daniel O?Brien, agricultural economist at K-State said double-cropped sunflowers after wheat last fall returned 18.9 percent to annual cost when the yield was 800 pounds an acre, 40.8 percent when the yield was 1,000 pounds an acre, and 60.4 percent when the yield was 1,200 pounds an acre.

O?Brien subtracted costs for machinery and its use, fertilizer and herbicide.

The National Sunflower Association cited the experiences of Kansas farmers double-cropping with sunflowers. To the northeast of Marion County, Chris Menold of Sabetha said he double-crops sunflowers because it pays.

?Soybeans are about break-even as a double crop, while sunflowers are a money maker,? he said.

Menold said he uses Roundup before planting, and sometimes a grass herbicide to ?take out?the problem of volunteer wheat.

?A good stand of sunflowers will shade out emerging broadleaf weeds,? he said.

Menold produced his best double-crop sunflowers ever last year with an average of 1,700 to 1,800 pounds an acre.

In his worst year, Menold said he planted seed deep into the soil to find moisture in a dry time. The seed germinated unevenly, and ?it looked like a disaster? until late July rain brought it all up for what became a good crop.

Further west, but still to the north of Marion County, Russell Hendrich of Portis said he has had the same success with double-cropped sunflowers that Menold reports.

In 2007, he said, everything was so rain delayed that he didn?t even get the last sunflowers into the ground until July 23 after starting June 20.

He started harvesting Oct. 16, and finished the day before Thanksgiving, feeling the pressure the entire time to get the sunflower ground back into wheat.

Hendrich said he ended up a winner with double-crop sunflowers.

?My break-even was 960 pounds, and I was shooting for an average of 1,200 pounds to make a reasonable profit,? he said. ?I averaged 1,700 pounds over 4,030 acres, so it was a home run.?

Both Menold and Hendrich sprayed for head moth, and said persons who didn?t control the insect took high losses.

Hendrich said he scouted for moths every third day. He ended up spraying most fields twice, and some fields three times.

Producers and scientists reported that no-till farming is opening the way to more double-cropping regardless of which crop is planted.

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