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Include sunflowers in crop rotation for stability

July 2015


Due to the deep root system of a sunflower, you will find that in tough dry years like the one we have just experienced they would have performed better than any other crop on your farm. They are very drought tolerant and can be hugely beneficial in assisting to cover the inputs of a failed cropping year.

However, due to the deep rootedness of the sunflower you need to take into account the moisture which has been tapped out of the soil. Crop rotation management should be implemented accordingly.

Sunflowers grow much quicker than maize and can therefore be planted later than maize. This past growing season we noticed many more farmers planting sunflowers due to the late rains. Much of the maize crop could not be planted due to time shortage. This dilemma may have been a blessing in disguise to many farmers as a huge percentage of maize that was planted this year barely produced anything. Sunflowers on the other hand would still have produced a crop. It may not have been a bumper crop, but at least it would have been worth it to put the combine through the land. Us as farmers can learn a lot in a year like this.

  • We can learn how to manage moisture.
  • We can learn how to plan for future droughts.
  • We can learn the value of crop diversification.
  • We can learn the value of fallow land.
  • We can learn the value of financial management, especially managing our finances to be able to deal with times like these.

Although most farmers, especially in the western regions of the country would have taken a big knock this year, there is a lot we can take away from a drought. If you are fortunate enough to carry on doing business next season, then what you have learnt through the past months, you now need to implement in to your future business plan.

By adding sunflowers to your crop rotation you will be adding stability and a bit of security. Obviously I am not saying plant everything to sunflowers in the coming season, no. But what I am suggesting is to plant a percentage of your lands to sunflowers. I also suggest leaving a percentage of your lands fallow. Keep them nice and clean through the summer months and the next production season you will notice a huge difference in the yields you achieve on those lands due to conserved moisture. This is especially applicable in sandy soils.

So what should I be doing now?

By now your sunflower crop should be harvested and marketed. If you have the ability to store your sunflower crop, it may be a good idea to hold onto it until December when the prices will most likely be at their peak. But obviously in a year like this it is tough to do so when we all need whatever capital we can get.

Spend the quiet months getting your lands ready for the next planting season. After the cattle have eaten all there is to eat on the harvested sunflower lands it is usually a good idea to roll it with a chopper. This will cut up the remaining stalks so that you can achieve a smoother seed bed for the next crop.

Your ability to plan for tough years to come in the future may determine the success of your farming business. If you can keep in mind the lessons that you have learnt this past year then you may be prepared enough to survive the next drought year that comes along. Who knows, next season may also be dryer than normal. Let’s hope not.

Article submitted by Gavin Mathews, Bachelor in Environmental Management.
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Publication: July 2015

Section: Pula/Imvula