06 Jan Choosing The Right Sunflower Hybrid
Selecting the right Sunflower hybrid starts with the expected end use of your production! Sunflower market opportunities include “Confection” seeds for direct human consumption, oil seeds for human and industrial oil use, and seed for wild bird food.
- Confection seeds are unique in size and shape depending upon the specific market and require a high level of management during production. Processors contract with growers to provide a desired seed shape, size, test weight and appearance often listing specific hybrids that work best for that need. Seed that does not meet these specifications may be rejected.
- The oil and birdseed markets can overlap in end use needs. Like the confection market oil and bird seed processors offer growers contracts to produce a desired volume of seed. However, seed appearance, size, etc., is of less importance to them. Most important to oil crushers is the overall oil content of the seed and the Oleic percentage of that oil. Seeds with oil content above the 40% minimum receive a premium price. Oil with acceptable Oleic percentage may provide growers with a premium price compared to non- High Oleic product. Birdseed processors are less concerned with oil content or type but prefer dark black seeds and require a minimum bushel weight.
In short before you put seed in the ground you should know your end market needs and seek out contracts with locked in pricing and Act of God clauses for your production.
Once your end market needs are met, there are several agronomic characteristics to consider when choosing the best sunflower hybrid fit for your environment and production capabilities.
- 3 sizes of oil planting seed in the US are available in– 2 thru 4 with 2 being largest. All sizes are equally viable and capable of providing adequate final yields. Historically producers chose seed size based on planting equipment, but late model planters can adjust and plant all sizes with equal precision. Sunflower seed is usually packaged by seed count with sizes 2 and 3 in 200,000 and size 4 in 225,000 seed count bags.
- Seed yield potential is of course a very important trait. Growers should look for hybrids with high and consistent yields across years and within their specific geographies. Universities and seed companies provide performance data in key sunflower growing states. Local strip trials and side x side tests are helpful but are often limited by geography and number.
- Oil content can vary significantly between hybrids. Be sure to balance seed yields with the oil content of those seeds. Comparing hybrids on an “oil per acre” basis is the best approach to maximizing economic output per acre.
- The hybrid should have the maturity to fit your local climate. Unless you are in a very short season area sunflowers can adjust to a broad planting date window and provide acceptable yields. However, yield and oil content are packed into the seed late in the growing season. Early freezes before seeds complete maturity can significantly reduce both.
- Stress tolerance is the hallmark of Sunflower. It is very efficient in water and nutrient use. However, differences between hybrids in response to drought do exist. Growers in drier environments should look for hybrids with better drought tolerance ratings.
- Insects and diseases can seriously affect sunflower. Breeders have been able to successfully provide us hybrids with protection from several of the main diseases. Look for hybrids with tolerance to the diseases prevalent in your area. Unfortunately, there is very limited genetic tolerance to insect pests. Confection seed production especially requires careful in season insect management and control to avoid damaged unmarketable seeds and dockage.
- Finally, weed control has traditionally been a challenge for growers. Fortunately, over the past ten years breeders have successfully integrated two types of herbicide tolerance into sunflower hybrids allowing good post-emergent weed control. Both Imidazalinone and Sufonyl-urea tolerant hybrids are available. Growers should consider the best fit for their situation based on weed species and available hybrids.
It is worth noting that once growers have selected and planted a Sunflower hybrid the maximum production potential of the crop is set. Remember that the experts at Sunflower Partners hybrids are here to help you with this critical decision.