South Dakota leading sunflower state for 2 years straight

Farm Forum

For Lyman County landowners Clay and Pam Roberts, who still farm the fields their families carved out of the prairie more than a century ago, it’s no mystery why South Dakota is once again the top sunflower-producing state in the nation.

It has to do with the bottom line.

Especially in areas such as Lyman County, where rainfall can be hard to come by in some years, sunflowers are a good bet that’s likely more times than not to pay off for producers.

“They’re probably one of the better money-makers,” Clay Roberts said. “They don’t take much investment and they don’t take a lot of moisture.”

Tops in the nation

That’s at least part of the explanation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics released last week that estimated sunflower production in South Dakota at 877 million pounds for 2014, or more than any other state.

Of those 877 million pounds, some 668 million pounds were oil sunflowers; the rest were non-oil varieties.

North Dakota is better known as the leading sunflower-producing state in the nation in most years.

But this is the second year in a row, and the third year out of four in which South Dakota has eased its sister state out of that first-place ranking.

South Dakota led the country in sunflower production in 2013, thanks in part to cool temperatures and wet conditions. South Dakota also grew more sunflowers than North Dakota in 2011, when weather and flooding were also issues in the Dakotas.

“This is great news for South Dakota sunflower producers,” Lance Hourigan, National Sunflower Association board member and Lemmon area sunflower producer, said in an association news release Monday. “Sunflowers have proven to be a profitable crop for our state, and we hope this news will encourage even more producers to plant sunflowers this spring.”

Deep roots in SD fields

In Sully County – often the top sunflower-producing county in the entire nation – general manager Tim Luken of Oahe Grain Corp. said there’s no question that sunflowers will continue holding their own in producers’ crop rotations. Most producers will grow them every four years in a rotation, but usually not more often than that because of the danger of white mold, or Sclerotinia, if they’re grown more frequently.

“It’s a good cash crop for producers,” Luken said. “They tend to make money with sunflowers most of the time.”

And the plant does well in central South Dakota even in years when rain is less abundant, he said.

“They’re kind of a drought-tolerant crop,” Luken said. “They’ve got a long taproot that will grow to moisture when a lot of crops won’t.”

The numbers

South Dakota’s planted and harvested acres were down slightly in 2014, the new data say, but yield per acre was up from 2013. Yield per acre increased from 1,534 pounds per acre to 1,679 pounds per acre.

The National Sunflower Association said nationwide, production of non-oil sunflower varieties is estimated at 2.2 million pounds, a slight increase from last year. Harvested acres are up three percent from 2013. The average yield increased by 89 pounds. Production of oil-type sunflower varieties in the United States was up two percent from 2013. Non-oil production was up 43 percent nationwide.

“I hope the trend of increased sunflower acres in South Dakota as well as in other sunflower-producing states continues,” Hourigan said in the association’s news release. “Sunflowers are a good crop for the unpredictable South Dakota weather, as proven by the state being the top producing state for two years in a row.”

More sunflowers in 2015?

Up in Sully County, Luken said it’s quite likely that the region will see even more sunflowers in 2015. That’s because the inputs for planting sunflowers are far less costly than for planting corn, and prices for corn have been less attractive to growers of late.

“We’re probably going to see 40 percent less corn than we usually see, but we’re going to see a lot more sunflowers,” Luken said.