MANDAN, North Dakota — The 2021 sunflower production in western North Dakota is looking good in spots.

Farmer Lance Renner, 29, helped by his father, Dennis, 71, raises 500 acres of sunflowers.

As of Sept. 30, they still had 600 acres of soybeans to combine, and 170 acres of corn, before they go after the sunflowers.

“The sunflowers will stand,” Lance said.

Lance expected to be harvesting them toward the end of October. He could desiccate them to get them harvested, but the weather forecasts looked favorable for harvest.

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“That could change,” he said, smiling. “It’s North Dakota.”

ConOil sunflowers, a hybrid between oilseed and confection, were doing well on the Lance Renner farm, south of Mandan, North Dakota, in 2021. The Renners hope to start harvesting by the end of October, but may have to desiccate the crop. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
ConOil sunflowers, a hybrid between oilseed and confection, were doing well on the Lance Renner farm, south of Mandan, North Dakota, in 2021. The Renners hope to start harvesting by the end of October, but may have to desiccate the crop. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

As of the Oct. 10, 2021, weekly crop progress condition report, North Dakota’s sunflower crop rated 11% very poor, 29% poor, 38% fair, 21% good and 1% excellent. About 91% of the crop’s bracts had turned brown, ahead of an 83% average for the date and 88% last year. About 14% were harvested, ahead of the 11% five-year average but behind last year's 23%. Minnesota’s sunflowers were 45% good to excellent, with 33% harvested. South Dakota’s sunflowers were 23% harvested, ahead of a 10% average and 17% last year.

Late rains

Lance Renner, 29, of Mandan, North Dakota, and his father, Dennis, 71, stand in front of a field of ConOils, a hybrid which is a cross between oilseed and confection sunflowers. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Lance Renner, 29, of Mandan, North Dakota, and his father, Dennis, 71, stand in front of a field of ConOils, a hybrid which is a cross between oilseed and confection sunflowers. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Renner farm received almost no rain until July 4, 2021, when an inch fell. It “dried up again,” with 100-degree temperatures. Dennis said he’s not seen it hotter and drier than this year.

“This drought started last year,” he said, remembering small rains of less than a quarter-inch, adding, “Too many 100-degree temperatures.”

Between mid-August and the end of September, the Renners welcomed another 4 inches of rain.

Lance Renner's combine chewed through pinto beans that yielded 600 pounds per acre, compared to 1,100 pounds in 2020. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Lance Renner's combine chewed through pinto beans that yielded 600 pounds per acre, compared to 1,100 pounds in 2020. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Since then, the soybeans have greened up. The Renners have desiccated them but they were still too wet as of Oct. 6, 2021, and hoped they’d dry down before the snow flies.

“It’s been a challenge all year long,” Dennis observed. “Every year has got its own challenges. Next year will be different. I don’t know what, but there’ll be a challenge.”

The Renners raise corn, some of which was cut early and planted with winter wheat. They have about 800 acres of winter wheat, which is double normal. They’ve harvested barley (8 to 12 bushels per acre, malt quality) durum wheat (good quality, 13 bushels per acre), and canola (lackluster 150 pounds per acre).

The green pinto bean aftermath was difficult to get through the combine chopper without plugging, so farmer Lance Renner and his father, Dennis, of Mandan, North Dakota, dropped it on the ground and baled it into straw for bedding. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The green pinto bean aftermath was difficult to get through the combine chopper without plugging, so farmer Lance Renner and his father, Dennis, of Mandan, North Dakota, dropped it on the ground and baled it into straw for bedding. Photo taken Sept. 30, 2021, at Mandan, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

They’ve harvested pinto beans, which had regrown with the moisture, causing harvest problems. Yields were about 400 pounds per acre, compared to 1,100 pounds per acre last year. They were dropping the aftermath on the ground and then baling for cattle bedding, rather than chopping it up.

The sunflowers are a good crop to have in the rotation, Lance said. Sunflowers handle heat and lack of moisture. They typically yield 1,500 to 1,800 pounds per acre, sometimes 2,000 pounds.

This year, if they get 1,500 pounds they’ll feel fortunate.

The late rains came while the flowers were still blooming, so that helped fill the heads. They have ConOils under contract for Red River Commodities. “So it goes into that SunButter,” he said.

ConOils are a hybrid which is a cross between oilseed and confection sunflowers, with better oil content than traditional confection seeds. The Renners also raise high-oleic sunflowers for the crush market.

“That’ll help with the test weight — the oil content,” he said.

The ConOils are contracted at a fixed price. The high-oleic sunflowers are on the cash, open market which has been 31 cents a pound, versus 24 cents a pound last year.

The Mandan area doesn’t have the pothole sloughs that attract the blackbirds and depredation problems farther east in North Dakota.

Wildlife is more of a problem with snowbanks, he said.

The Renners try to avoid that.