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Sunflower in your crop rotation

Positioning Sunflower in your Crop Rotation

Positioning Sunflower in your Crop Rotation

 As with all crops, Sunflower responds to good management practices including proper rotation with other species.   When positioning Sunflower in your crop rotation, some strategic thinking is required.

Sunflower grows well under dry conditions.  It joins Safflower as one of the most deeply-rooted crops, with a root system that can dig down 5 to 7’.  Thus, it is one of the most adept crops at utilizing subsoil moisture.  In addition, Sunflower is second only to Peas in water use efficiency for broadleaf crops.  These traits make Sunflower one of the best broadleaf crops at converting water to seed yield.   On the flip side Sunflower’s ability to extract more water from the soil than most crops leaves less soil moisture for following crops in the rotation.   With appropriate rotation design, producers can accentuate the positive impacts of sunflower, and minimize the adverse effects.


Rotation Guidelines

Moisture Considerations:

  • “One rotation I like for North Dakota is sunflower, barley, peas, and wheat, then back to sunflower,” says Duane Berglund, NDSU extension agronomist**. “The challenge in very dry conditions is what you should plant following flowers. One idea might be fallow, followed by winter Wheat. That’s something to consider, particularly in South Dakota or southwest N.D.” Berglund suggests an annual forage crop for hay like Sorghum-Sudan might also work following Sunflower.   “When it starts getting dry, you cut it so that field has a chance for moisture recharge”.


  • At Colby, Kansas, research** suggests that a winter wheat-corn-sunflower-grain sorghum-fallow rotation is worth considering. With soil moisture likely to be somewhat depleted after corn, Sunflower has shown the potential to extract subsoil water that is unavailable to either corn or grain sorghum, which favors sunflower after corn. According to the research at Colby, grain sorghum required the least amount of available soil moisture to maintain small year-to-year yield variation and produced high amounts of crop residue. This suggests that grain sorghum follow sunflower as the last crop before seeding wheat, not only to provide another cash crop, but also to provide additional crop residue cover during the extended fallow period.


Weed Management
  • Sunflower provides additional opportunities to control weeds throughout the crop rotational cycle. Adding this broadleaf crop provides growers with more cultural and chemical options for managing weeds prior to planting grains and as a summer annual provides new timing windows and options for controlling winter annual grasses in winter wheat.


Insect and Disease Management
  • Sunflower diseases and pests are generally a change from cereal crops which help to break up those cycles. However, growers should be aware that Sclerotinia White Mold is a major concern in Sunflower and many other crops production.  White mold occurs and may cause serious yield loss in soybeans, dry beans, canola, and flax.   To reduce effects of this disease in Sunflower and other crops a 4-year rotation is recommended between susceptible crops.


** The Rotation Equation: Where should sunflower fit? – The Sunflower Magazine, February 2003.  National Sunflower Association.