Growers look for short season sunflower hybrids

CANORA, Sask. – Visitors to the East Central Research Foundation’s hybrid sunflower plots at Canora, Sask., have a tough time this year finding evidence that nitrogen rates make a difference in sunflowers.

The plots were planted June 29 and are about a month behind where they should be.

Wet weather has limited research into areas such as nitrogen rates.

Researcher Bill May from Agriculture Canada’s research farm at Indian Head, Sask., said the difference in nitrogen rates is clearer at Indian Head, where conditions were better.

“At least we’ll get emergence data,” he said after seeing the plots at Canora.

The potential for more sunflowers to be grown in Saskatchewan is big, he added.

“This is a year, if the varieties were around, that interest was starting to grow.”

However, with only two cultivars available – 63A21 from Pioneer HiBred and AC Sierra – the options are limited.

The Pioneer variety was sold out this year, and May said there is a concern that it might not be around much longer because it doesn’t include the NuSun oil profile.

NuSun is a mid-oleic oil that can be used in the human food market.

The varieties that farmers now grow are for the birdseed market.

May said breeders lost all their early maturing varieties that would do better on the Canadian Prairies as they concentrated on the NuSun market.

There is no Canadian breeding program because the acreage is too small.

Breeders are centred in North Dakota and South Dakota, and May said they are “thin on the ground” and use European varieties in their work.

“It’s more difficult to bring a crop north-south than it is to bring it east-west,” he said.

“Hopefully in a few years we’ll have some hybrids that we can grow up here.”

Saskatchewan processor Sun Country must import sunflowers to fill its market.

The plots at Canora are funded under the province’s Agricultural Demonstration of Practices and Technologies program, which provides money to producer groups to help evaluate practices at the local level.

May said that enabled them to bring hybrids from the United States for research without significant cost.

Growers are looking for sunflowers that dry down quicker and mature earlier so that they are better suited to the growing season.

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