By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A few months ago, Myron Oftedahl got a lot of questions about the plants emerging on his 8.5-acre field on the south side of Lester Prairie.
They didn’t resemble beans, corn, or wheat so what were they?
Curious minds got their answer when unmistakable yellow blooms started to make their way toward the sunshine.
“This is the first year I’ve had them,” Oftedahl said.
He has a total of 13.5 acres of sunflowers (on two fields), and they appear to be doing well.
“I planted 25,000 seeds per acre,” he said. “That might be pushing it, but we seem to have gotten a decent head size. I’ve been told that a 9-inch head is ideal.”
The petals were steadily falling off last week, and the center florets are drying up. Pretty soon, the seed kernels will swell and ripen.
“I’m hoping for 2,500 pounds per acre, but I don’t know if we’ll get that,” Oftedahl said.
Harvest time will most likely be in October, when seeds will be sold for either oil or birdseed.
Oftedahl plans to hire father and son Larry and Nathan Ide of Lester Prairie to combine the fields. The Ides planted their first sunflowers in 2003, because they wanted a crop that could withstand sandy soil.
“It’s a more drought-tolerant crop,” Oftedahl said. Sunflowers can be raised on 10 inches of rain and be profitable.
On average, the roots go down 20 to 24 inches deeper than other crops, which not only helps the plants get moisture, but also alleviates soil compaction.
“That’s part of the reason I wanted to put these in, too. There’s still evidence of compaction from when they re-did the highway,” Oftedahl said, referring to the project several years ago on Babcock Avenue, just south of where Schmidty’s gas station and the Prairie Liquor Cabinet are currently located.
Oftedahl said that although sunflowers are relatively easy to grow, it is important to watch for head rot, which is caused by the same organism that triggers white mold in soybeans.
“It’s exactly what the name says the head just rots,” he said.
The United States Department of Agriculture states that crops are most commonly infected through adjacent infected fields. According to North Dakota State University research, spores can also blow miles downwind, causing head rot in areas previously free of infection.
Fortunately, Oftedahl’s plants are all in good health.
Having a sunflower crop was part of the requirement for the five-year conservation security program (CSP) Oftedahl signed up for recently.
“I wanted to be familiar with the process, so that I can answer questions about it,” said Oftedahl, a farm business management instructor for South Central College (serving the Glencoe/Silver Lake area).
The CSP, which was authorized with the 2008 Farm Bill, encourages agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones on their operations.
“The amount you get paid back depends on what practices you sign up for,” Oftedahl said.
For Oftedahl, sunflowers have been a good third crop in his rotation.
“If it works out, I don’t see why I wouldn’t do it again,” he said.