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Published October 26, 2010, 09:02 AM

Sunflower harvest charges through bright October

STEELE, N.D. — It’s been a sunny sunflower harvest in October, says James Cusey of Steele, N.D. It’s a far cry from last year when most farmers don’t remember a single sunny day.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

STEELE, N.D. — It’s been a sunny sunflower harvest in October, says James Cusey of Steele, N.D. It’s a far cry from last year when most farmers don’t remember a single sunny day.

“We’ve had an average crop, probably 1,700 to 1,800 pounds an acre,” Cusey says of the harvest through Oct. 20, when he was on his last field.

He planted a few more acres of sunflowers in 2010 than he had in 2009 because of how the rotations worked out.

“Quality-wise, they’ve been running 30 to 31 pounds” per bushel, he says.

The farm Cusey runs with his wife, Meredith, and four young children started its sunflower harvest the week of Oct. 4 and buzzed through 2,400 acres with only two days of shutdowns since the end of September.

So far so good

That squares with what Larry Kleingartner, executive director of the National Sunflower Association in Bismarck, N.D., has been hearing. Reports from the Northern Plains are showing oil contents averaging 43 to 44.6 percent, with levels climbing as the harvest progresses. Test weights are at more than 31 pounds per bushel and seed moistures are averaging less than 10 percent, he says.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service on Oct. 17 pegged the region’s sunflower harvest in the early stages.

“I’d say within 10 days we’ll know a whole lot more,” Kleingartner says.

Harvest in North Dakota had raced to 24 percent complete as of Oct. 17, up from only 6 percent the previous week, after another perfect week of harvest in the region.

Kleingartner says it takes about five days from the harvest to complete quality tests, but no one is expecting big problems. There have been various areas of disease in this year’s sunflower crop, but some of it developed late enough to avoid major impacts on the crop.

“I think if we’ve had any problem, it was the really, really wet planting conditions,” Kleingartner says. “Quite a few acres went into prevent-planting when we got too late. Generally, that can lead to more disease, but some of the diseases came in late and aren’t going to be a factor. Generally, this has been a good production year.”

Less concentrated

The 2010 sunflower crop is likely more spread out than last year, Kleingartner says.

“I think it’s because some of the processors who do a lot of the pre-contracting were really nervous last year that they had too many acres in one location,” he says.

The 2009 crop was more concentrated in north-central South Dakota and south-central North Dakota.

“I think they made more of an effort to broaden it out,” he says.

A late and spotty killing frost has occurred in has left some areas of central and western South Dakota and western North Dakota sunflower crops still green and growers still wanting a frost.

“There are more desiccants and more farmers are using them, but in a lot of areas, the crop has just dried down normally,” Kleingartner says.

Sunflowers should be at 12 to 13 percent moisture for harvest and sunflowers should be in the 10 percent range for storage, Kleingartner says.

“I think we’re right on that category,” Kleingartner says with the crush plants in Enderlin, N.D., and Fargo, N.D., seeing flowers in the 10 percent level. Above-normal temperatures have helped with this. In some cases, the seeds are reported dry even with green plant material.

Cusey says the varieties he plants are oil-type sunflowers, but are the kinds that can be dehulled for both oil and for salad bars.

“They’re a large-seeded oil (type) used for human consumption. That’s what I’ve been growing the last few years. We get a little more for them than for regular oils, but not quite the risk you have with confections,” he says.

Cusey raised several crops this season, and here’s how they went:

n Winter wheat: Low 60 bushel yields, 12 to 12.5 percent proteins.

“They based the price off 12 percent, so I was happy with that,” he says.

Spring wheat: Yields in the mid-50-bushel range, with proteins levels good at 14 percent.

Durum wheat: Averaged 52 bushels an acre, with good quality.

“We went four weeks in late June and early June with no rain. Only three semi-loads got rained on,” he says.

n Corn: Had harvested 200 acres by Oct. 20, with 350 acres left. Cusey had hoped to resume his corn harvest on Oct. 22. His corn had been running about 15.5 percent moisture in mid-October and was yielding a respectable 100- to 110-bushels per acre.

“That’s pretty good for out here,” he says, but says the poorer varieties were harvested first. “It got dry here and kind of pushed it,” toward maturity, he says.