Sunflowers are noted for their drought tolerance, and at least one sunflower farmer in the area is dealing with too much moisture.
Randy Svitak of Pilsen said he planted 150 acres of full-season sunflowers this spring. The field looked to be a bumper crop as the summer progressed, he said, but when heavier rains came, fungus infected the crop, reducing the yield by 30 to 40 percent.
The remainder of his 600 acres of sunflowers was double-cropped after wheat. Svitak thinks it should turn out OK unless it keeps on raining.
Marty Kroupa of rural Lincolnville has 500 acres of sunflowers that were planted into wheat stubble. He said the crop is looking good. In a dry year, he said, sunflowers will out-produce soybeans as a double crop and can be planted as late as August.
Kroupa plants sunflowers every other year. He said they work well in rotation with other crops because they leave a lot of residue after harvest and the plants’ taproots go deep and loosen the soil.
Both farmers plant a sunflower variety that produces high oleic oil, oil that is comprised mainly of monounsaturated fat. The oil is good for producing food products that remain stable on the grocery store shelf.
Special headers are installed on their combines to harvest the sunflowers. The farmers store the seed in bins before shipping it out to processing plants at Lamar, Colorado or Goodland, where they receive a premium price because of the high oleic content. Svitak said the seed has to be dried down to 10 percent moisture before it is sent to market.
Kroupa said the price is a little lower this year than last because of competition from canola oil, which can be substituted for sunflower oil in manufactured food products.
Kroupa has a field of blooming sunflowers four miles south of Marion on Sunflower Rd. He said neighboring farmers often see people stopping to take pictures. Some ask to use it as a background for formal pictures.
“Some people tell me if I would set out a can for cash from people who stop and take pictures, I could make money,” he joked, “but the flowers will be pretty for just a week before some of them start to fade.”