Thinking BIG

Get set for BIG heads with BIG seeds and BIG yields.

Fine tuning seeding rates and planter adjustments are vital for success.

It can be challenging getting planter settings right for sunflowers, especially confection hybrids. Alison Pokrzywinski, Nuseed sunflower technical agronomist, recommends checking all planter components and replacing any broken or worn out parts. To improve seed flow, she says, use graphite or talcum powder as recommended in the planter operator’s manual.

Specific suggestions for planter maintenance and settings based on planter brand and model are available in Nuseed’s Sunflower Field Guide and Confection Sunflower Planting Guide both downloadable at in the resources section. Planter settings, maintenance recommendations and seed meter set-up information are also available on both the Canadian and American National Sunflower Association websites.

Seed placement is an important aspect to achieving the desired results. Singulation, or placing one seed per space, is essential, says Pokrzywinski. Multiple seeds in one location creates competition between the plants, which results in smaller grain.

“When a sunflower plant has more room, it will get bigger, put on a bigger head, and produce bigger seed. When you have doubles in the field, the plants will put on smaller heads and produce smaller seeds – that’s not what you want when you’re going into, say, the dehull or confection market,” she says.

How close the sunflower plants are seeded depends upon the hybrid. Recommended seeding rates are based on the grain characteristics desired by the end-use markets. For example, confection hybrids, such as Nuseed’s Panther DMR, are often seeded at a rate of 16,000-17,000 seeds per acre for the in-shell market, whereas, conoil hybrids, such as Badger DMR, are seeded at 18,000- 20,000 seeds per acre for the dehull or bird food markets.

“Confection, conoils and oilseeds all have different requirements for planting population. It depends on what you want for your target seed size. The lower the population, the bigger and plumper your seeds are going to get. The higher the population the smaller the seeds. You want to make sure you have the right plant population for your area,” she says.

For sunflower grower Gord Graham, who grows 5,300 acres of confection hybrids near Rainier, Alberta, seed sizing has been his biggest challenge. He says during that first year he learned about doubles eliminators at the school of hard knocks. “Our seeding rate was way too high because we didn’t have the doubles eliminators in. Our splits [percentage of large seed] were brutal, at around 50 percent,” he said.

In addition to the doubles eliminators, to bring the seeding rate down, Graham tried different sprocket sizes and changed his planting plates to John Deere’s ProMAX 40 flat seed disks. However, the seeding rate was still too high. After changing sprockets once again, the seeding rate was better, but still not low enough.

“This year, we got a variable-rate drive planter,” he said. “Basically, we punch a number into the computer and away we go. We should’ve done it years ago.” Now Graham’s seeding rate is at 16,800 seeds per acre and he’s hopeful his splits will be 80 percent or more. “We’ve got our seeding rate down to where I believe it should make a difference,” he says.

Slow and Steady

Seeding depth is another important factor to consider for getting the crop off to a good start. When seeding, the soil temperature should reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, seeding depth is from 1.5 inches to 2.5 inches; however, confection hybrids should never be seeded deeper than two inches. Furthermore, due to its larger, thicker shell, confection sunflower seed requires more moisture to germinate and emerge than oilseed hybrids.

“It’s a fine line knowing where your moisture line is and making sure you’re not planting too deep,” says Pokrzywinski. When it comes to planter speed, slow and steady should be the pace. Although planters differ, a general starting speed of five miles per hour will ensure best results. Slowing the planter down is even more important when planting confection hybrids. The large size and light test weight make these hybrids more challenging to plant correctly. Slowing down provides more accurate performance of the seed metering device.

Listen to Mick Kjar of Farm Talk and Jed Wall of Legend Seeds discuss how to achieve BIG heads, BIG seeds and Big yields for success with sunflowers.