Sunflowers – a valuable tool in your cropping programme
Sunflowers are an amazing crop that can be planted in a number of regions throughout South Africa. The primary sunflower producing areas in South Africa are Northern Free Sate, Eastern North-West province and Southern areas of Mpumalanga.
Sunflowers provide farmers with a good crop rotation option. They can also be an alternative option when optimum planting dates have expired for other crops such as maize, as sunflowers can be planted until the end of January.
Sunflowers require a warm dry climate with an annual rainfall of between 400 mm and 600 mm. They are a tough crop that can be resilient in drought years. Where there is acid or clay type soils, sunflowers will perform better than maize, provided the climatic conditions are suitable. So, in essence sunflowers really provide farmers with options and can become a valuable tool in ones cropping programme.
January is prime planting time for sunflowers. Therefore, things one should keep in mind at this time are all aspects revolving around the planting of sunflowers.
Be sure that you choose the correct cultivar which will perform well under your farm circumstances. It is a good practice to consult with a seed representative for this. He or she will also be able to advise you on the best plant population to plant, which will allow you to calculate the amount of seed that you will require. The plant population will also be influenced by whether or not you will be planting under irrigation or dry-land conditions. Make sure to do soil analyses by taking soil samples. You should do this well in advance so that you can have time to analyse results and order your required fertiliser before planting time begins. Before sending your soil samples to be tested, make sure to state the crops that you wish to plant. Your fertilisation should be based on your soil sample results.
The above are all very important factors to consider and implement. But there is one management factor that needs special attention especially at planting time, and that is weed control. Sunflowers are particularly sensitive to weed competition for the first six weeks after planting. At planting time one needs to make particular efforts to get a nice clean, level seed bed. Mechanical weed control is the most common method used as it provides the farmer with a soft sandy top layer of soil which is ideal to plant into. After planting you will need to follow up with a good pre-emergence herbicide. This needs to be done soon after planting as sunflower seeds usually germinate and emerge 7 - 10 days after planting depending on climatic conditions. If conditions are wet and warm, the farmer will need to once again follow up with a good post-emergence herbicide mixture. It is essential to do this before the sunflowers get too tall or else a tractor and spray-rig will not be able to enter the field.
Sunflower seedlings are very sensitive to the elements and special attention and care needs to be given to them at this critical stage. They are susceptible to sun scorch and wind burn which will have an adverse effect on your plant population and your yields. If your area is experiencing hot, windy and dusty weather conditions at this stage, it will be a good idea to scratch the soil in between the planted rows, in order to reduce your losses. The disturbed soil bands will reduce dust and can also break the top crust of soil to aid in emergence of the sunflowers.
Always have a goal. Establish a realistic yield target and work towards achieving it. Make sure that your pre-season planning is thorough, so that when planting starts you will be able to make good progress with fewer hold ups. Finally, make sure that you understand and the crop that you are planting. You need to do the required research on sunflowers before you go ahead and plant it for the first time.
Article submitted by Gavin Mathews, Bachelor in Environmental Management. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication: January 2018