Sunflowers Growing in Missouri
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Acreage of sunflowers in Missouri is expected to increase substantially this year as more farmers grow the crop for in-state birdseed markets. Over 150 Missouri farmers and crop advisors have attended workshops and meetings on sunflowers this spring, according to Alan Weber with the Jefferson Institute. Weber reports that "the birdseed market for sunflowers has been increasing steadily over the past decade, and several hundred thousand acres of sunflower annually go into this market. Missouri sunflower growers may also see new market opportunities in the future as demand grows for Nusun™ vegetable oil, a premium sunflower oil that is increasing in popularity."
"Sunflowers can be planted and harvested using existing grain crop equipment," explains Rob Myers, executive director of the Jefferson Institute. "Most farmers plant them in 30 to 38 inch wide rows to allow for weed cultivation or to use a row crop header at harvest." Missouri producers can grow sunflowers as a single crop, or double crop them after wheat. Compared to double crop soybeans, sunflowers reach maturity more quickly, which means they can be planted up to 10 days later than soybeans. Sunflowers are also more tolerant of an early fall frost.
Seeds for planting a sunflower crop are available from most major seed companies. Although farmers can safely plant into late July, early to mid-July is the ideal time to start. Several herbicides are available for sunflowers, and they yield best with about 80 to 100 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre. Last year, sunflower variety tests conducted jointly by the Jefferson Institute and the University of Missouri showed sunflowers planted in early June yielded about 2000 pounds per acre for the better varieties, and about 1500 to 1600 pounds per acre when planted as a double crop after wheat in July.
In addition, sunflowers are eligible for loan deficiency payments, similar to other crops, such as corn and soybeans. Sunflower net income for this year on Missouri farmers is projected to compare favorably to other row crops in Missouri, with the greatest profit netted from double cropping the sunflowers.
The Jefferson Institute, a non-profit ag education center funded primarily by the USDA, helps farmers interested in crop alternatives. It works jointly with the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources to research alternative crop options for Missouri producers. For more information about sunflower production and marketing, including seed sources and buyers, contact the Jefferson Institute at (573) 449-3518, or visit their website at www.jeffersoninstitute.org .