Double-Cropping Sunflower After Wheat

Double-Cropping Sunflower After Wheat

Photo of sunflower at r5.7 stage
Sunflower at R5.7 stage sixty days after wheat harvest
Photo of Wheat residue
Figure 2. Wheat residue and no-till can help retain valuable soil moisture in a double-crop system.
Photo of Nebraska producers
These Nebraska producers are proving the potential for double-cropping sunflower after wheat.
September 7, 2007

Managing risk is always key to production agriculture. Crop rotations reduce risk and crop rotations within the same year offer even more opportunity for risk management. Double-cropping sunflower after wheat harvest is one of these options.

Traditionally, a lack of local delivery points has been a hindrance to adopting this crop — either as a primary or double-crop; however, this is changing. The food industry's demand for zero transfats has created a huge demand for stable cooking/frying oils. NuSun sunflower oil offers zero transfats plus low saturated fats, prompting crushing plant interests that would offer a local delivery point. Biodiesel demand offers another growing market that could reduce risk even more.

The crushing plants need feedstock. Sunflower and canola offer opportunity for producers to plant for vegetable oil with meal as an important by-product. The oil advantage is two to two-and-a-half times that of soybeans. Canola would fit into cropping plans as a cool-season crop and sunflower as a warm-season with both offering distinct opportunities.

This year the somewhat early wheat harvest expanded the opportunity to plant sunflower as a second crop behind wheat. This possibility has always existed, however prices approached 20 cents per pound for oil sunflower this summer. Add to that the two-for-one premium for oil percentages above 40% and that could bring the price to over 20 cents per pound. Two-thousand-pound per acre sunflower could bring in another $400+ per acre gross with about $125 per acre cost. Sunflower production contracts often contain an Act Of God Clause which sets a price for full production. Forward contracting on a portion of the crop might gain two cents per pound, but the remainder would be subject to market prices.

The ample rainfall this year has eliminated soil moisture as a limiting factor in many areas. Previous to this year a grower in Kansas had a five-year irrigated double-crop after wheat average of 1800 pounds per acre. A dryland producer reported a 1400-pound average while another reported a range of 900 to 2100 pounds per acre. These were reported by the National Sunflower Association.

On August 29 a small group of sunflower producers visited Eric Maaske's double crop sunflower production southwest of Bertrand. The photos included here show the crop stage at that time -- sixty days after wheat harvest and planting. He reported that in late June the combine, sprayer and planter were all operating in fields at the same time.

Wheat stubble offers great no-till opportunities for moisture conservation and weed control (see Figure 2). Fertilizer applied at planting was 25N, 15P and 2S with 50N and 50P being side-dressed later. (Wheat will be planted after sunflower harvest.) Prowl and glyphosate were applied as herbicides. The residue from these two crops should offer excellent protection/benefits for the new wheat crop.

The crop growth stage on August 29 was R5.5 to R5.8. Sunflower at these stages at this time of the year have fewer insect and disease problems. This should translate to physiological maturity by the end of September. With desiccation the new crop wheat should be in by the third week in October.

Irrigation allocations could be a concern in some instances when adding a second crop because it would increase yearly water use. Irrigation in sunflower should be managed to provide an inch or more each time and then allow the crop to dry - especially after pollen shed. White mold caused by a pathogen named Sclerotinia sclerotiorum forms on dead tissue. If the florets on the head are wet too long, they could develop this mold. Mid stalk sclerotinia can be caused by florets or pollen that fall and remain on the leaf axils. Producers need to be aware of these preventative issues — any fungus has less chance to propagate if the plant surfaces are dry going into the night.

Double-crop sunflower appears to have the potential to yield 1500 to 2000 pounds per acre. The goal for full season production should be 3000 to 3500 pound per acre.

If this is coupled with local delivery transportation savings, the net would be two to three cents per pound more. This production is expected to have a local delivery at Arapahoe.

Bill Booker
Extension Educator, Box Butte County