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Sunflowers that will offer better options

Herbicide tolerance trait makes crop more attractive.

March 5, 2008  By Top Crop Manager

Growing sunflowers in Canada is about to get significantly easier. Both confectionary and oilseed varieties of Clearfield herbicide tolerant (HT) sunflowers are now registered to be grown in Canada and the process of registering the herbicides that will be used as part of the Clearfield Production System for sunflowers is also underway. The new system will give growers a Group 2 option for wild oats control but, more importantly, will finally give producers a broad spectrum, one pass post-emergence weed control option.

“With this system, Canadian farmers will get access to the same technology that American farmers have,” says Robert Hornford, Manitoba based technology development specialist with BASF Canada.

Sunflower crops, in full flower, look spectacular but remain a relatively minor crop in most of Canada. According to Darcelle Mabon, with the National Sunflower Association of Canada, farmers here plant approximately 190,000 acres annually. Almost 90 percent of these acres are grown in Manitoba.

“Based on seeded acreage reports in 2007, Manitoba producers planted approximately 110,000 acres of confection sunflower varieties and about 65,000 acres of oil varieties,” says Arvel Lawson, oilseed specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI). “The market is split between confection and oil type sunflowers, but the current Manitoba sunflower acreage is dominated by the confection types.”

Lawson says that oil type acres used to dominate Manitoba sunflower acreage but opportunities in confection type processing, coupled with the eventual closure of the sunflower oil crushing plant in Manitoba in the mid 1990s, led to the current situation. However, present trends suggest that sunflower acreage in Manitoba may be shifting once again.

The introduction of Clearfield sunflowers will significantly improve weed control options in the crop.

Healthy oil
Globally, health conscious consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the levels of trans fats used in food. Processors everywhere are switching to healthier oils, like sunflower and canola oil, as quickly as possible. In Canada, canola oil has received the lion’s share of the healthy oil accolades; more evident in the US is the focus being placed on sunflowers.
“There are relatively strong market signals coming out of the US for oil type sunflowers,” Lawson says. “Higher prices and premiums are being paid for oil type sunflowers and delivery options into US crush plants are also improving. We’re starting to see a jump in acreage as farmers respond. Last year in Manitoba, we had about 41,000 acres of oil type sunflowers and this year we’ve got 65,000. It’s going to be interesting in the next few years to see how the split between oils and confections works out. There are definitely strong, developed confection and birdseed industries in Canada, but another opportunity in the form of oil type sunflowers for the human food market is also emerging for growers.”

“In Canada, there is a strong demand from crushers for sunflower oil to meet the demand from companies such as Frito Lay,” Mabon says.

Production challenges
Confection processors want large, uniform seed as well as minimal bird and insect damage. Growers need to pay special attention to planting density and plant spacing to achieve optimum seed size. For this reason, confection growers often use row crop planters to ensure accurate plant counts and uniform plant spacing. Row cropping also allows growers the option of inter-row cultivation for in-crop weed control.

“Weed control is definitely something sunflower producers have to consider,” Lawson says. “In Canada, there are very few in-crop options for controlling broadleaf weeds. That’s why we are so excited to have the Clearfield option in sunflowers. Having a broad spectrum, post-emergence option for both grassy and broadleaf weeds will allow growers more flexibility and weed control in sunflowers. The Clearfield option may also make sunflowers a more attractive option for new growers who want to capture current opportunities in oil type sunflowers.”

“I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the change in acres next year now that these varieties are available in Canada,” Mabon says. “Lack of varieties and chemical options have definitely been a concern. Clearfield will give producers another option for growing sunflowers.”

Clean fields
Ray and Herb Rempel of Rosenort, Manitoba, long-time sunflower growers, tried 160 acres of Clearfield confection seeds in 2007. They sprayed 20 acres of their crop with Solo herbicide in accordance with the research permit granted by the Pest Management Review Agency (PMRA). They were eager to try them since weed control is such a problem with a non-competitive crop like sunflowers.

“After weather, weeds are the biggest issue we face as sunflower growers,” Ray says. “There are virtually no products available. Well, there are some but none have the broad spectrum control that we’d like. The 20 acres we did spray were much cleaner than the ones we didn’t. It looks like Solo does a very good job on the curled dock, wild buckwheat, wild mustard, volunteer canola as well as our grassy weeds, such as millet, foxtails, wild oats and volunteer cereals which were also an issue in the field.”

At the time of writing, work was proceeding to register Solo and eventually other herbicide options for use as part of the Clearfield Production System for sunflowers. “A minor use application has already been submitted to the PMRA for Solo through the minor use process, in partnership with MAFRI and the National Sunflower Association,” says Hornford of BASF. “Our research demonstrates that these herbicides will bring significant new value to sunflower production through expanded choices in weed control. This is something that hasn’t been available in this crop and we look forward to remedying that with the introduction of Clearfield sunflowers.” -end-


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