Crop Rotation Planning

Travis Iglehart knows a thing or two about planting sunflowers for commercial production. His family has been growing the crop for the oil, confection and conoil markets for three generations at Iglehart farms, near Garrison, North Dakota. According to Iglehart, sunflowers are a versatile and profitable crop, not to mention good for the soil and for extracting water or nutrients deep in the soil profile.

“In wet years, sunflowers will get your soil back in shape. If there are nutrients left over, the roots will go down and get those, too,” says Iglehart. “Sunflowers will excel in dry years, as well. They do what they can to survive with what they’ve got to work with.”

Of the steps involved with sunflower production, planting is important to get right, and is central to a crop’s success. However, before planters are adjusted and seed is put in the ground, best results begin with pre-plant planning.

Crop Rotation

The biggest factor influencing Iglehart’s sunflower crop success is crop rotation, he says. The benefits of his durum, canola, wheat, soybean, corn and sunflower rotation, are many, he says, noting reduced disease and weed pressure. He feels that planting sunflowers after corn further reduces his weed competition and fertilizer inputs.

“It’s a big advantage to plant sunflowers after corn. Because you heavily fertilize corn, the sunflowers seem to take less fertilizer, according to soil tests,” says Iglehart.

“After corn, the field is pretty clean. With no weeds in the sunflower field, you get a better stand and no weed competition for the crop.”

A minimum three-year rotation to reduce disease risk and weed pressure is necessary, says Alison Pokrzywinski, Nuseed sunflower technical agronomist. Rotate out of crops, such as canola, rapeseed, dry edible beans, and soybeans, that are susceptible to the same diseases as sunflowers, such as Sclerotinia, she says.

“Make sure you have some sort of grain, whether it be wheat or corn, in the rotation, so you can help keep your susceptibility down,” says Pokrzywinski.

A broad rotation also allows the use of herbicides with different modes of action, decreasing the risk of herbicide-resistant weeds in the field.


Listen to Mick Kjar of Farm Talk and Alison Pokrzywinski of Nuseed discuss the importance of including the right crops into your sunflower rotations.