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Increased interest in sunflowers has encouraged Texas AgriLife Research to include the crop in the official crop-testing program. Current trials include both oilseed and confectionary hybrids.
Sometimes a catch crop
Sunflowers are a primary crop for some, but many use it as a catch crop—something to plant after a failed grain or especially cotton crop. In 2010, only about 10 percent of the sunflowers were planted as a catch crop. But in 2009, probably 25 percent was a catch crop and in 2008, "we had a huge amount of late-planted sunflower."
That is part of the attraction to sunflowers, Trostle said. They have a very long and late planting window, from early April to mid-July. And sunflowers are not injured by a light freeze, so they continue to grow and add yield and oil content when the same temperature on a sorghum crop would cause severe injury or even kill it.
It takes sunflowers about 120 days from planting to harvest, he said. Sunflowers can be planted about 10 days earlier in the spring around Lubbock than in the northern Panhandle as well as about 10 days later in the summer. So April sunflowers are likely harvested in August, but July sunflowers, because they will not shut down until a hard freeze, might not be harvested until November.
Trostle said growing sunflowers is not and should not be for everyone, but it does make sense on limited irrigation because the crop effectively roots to at least 6 feet deep and can scavenge for nutrients and moisture deep in the soil well below the reach of corn and even cotton.
The National Sunflower Association has a goal of increasing Texas sunflower production to diversify the region in the U.S. where sunflower is grown, he said.
"A larger oilseed crushing plant here would make a major difference," Trostle said.
He said Producers Co-op Oil Mill in Oklahoma City is hoping to expand into crushing Texas sunflowers when they move to a soon-to-be-built facility outside Oklahoma City.
More information about growing sunflowers in the High Plains can be found at http://lubbock.tamu.edu/sunflower.