Forecast: ‘Sunny’ spring
North West NSW will splash gold on the State canvas in November when this spring’s massive sunflower crop flowers.
Moree district agronomist Stephanie Belfield reports in the September edition of Agriculture Today this year’s spring planting is expected to be 60,000 hectares in northern NSW alone - mostly in the Golden Triangle, Moree and Narrabri districts – and double last year’s figure for the early and late planting combined.
Growers realised in late June that hope of sowing much more winter crop was fading fast as wet conditions dried out slowly.
With an attractive sunflower price beckoning, they made the changeover to summer crops.
Contracts were soon signed and seed sold out rapidly as growers twigged that not only were sunflowers the earliest summer crop they could plant to take advantage of the excellent store of moisture, the dryland gross margin looks hard to beat this year.
Like all summer crops, sunflowers are temperature dependent and require a soil temperature of 10 degrees Celsius minimum consistently at 10 centimetres depth at 8am Eastern Standard Time or 9am Eastern Summer Time and rising, with fine weather for germination.
This usually occurs around mid August to mid September for the Moree and Narrabri regions, with sowing pushing back two weeks around Warialda and from to mid September to late November for Gunnedah and surrounding regions.
Early sown sunflowers are usually ready to harvest from mid January onwards adding to the attractiveness of this crop. With good summer and autumn rains, the chance of double cropping back into a winter cereal would increase as fallow time would be maximised from January through to May.
This ability to switch relatively easily from summer to winter is important in northern farming systems, where under certain crop rotations, a lot of time and money can be lost trying to change from summer to winter and vice versa.
Sunflowers also have a number of rotational benefits, providing a good break from cereal diseases such as crown rot and yellow leaf spot.
North West NSW achieved excellent sunflower yields last spring where mild wet conditions prevailed for most of the growing season. Sunflowers yielded up to 2.5 tonnes per hectare and 45 per cent oil in the Moree region, such results usually expected only on the Liverpool Plains.
With a full profile of moisture and the ability to plant on time, everything points to a good season. However, while sunflowers are a tough plant, growers will be relying on some in-crop rain, mild conditions during flowering and grain fill to again set themselves up for a repeat of last spring’s excellent performance.
Growers seeking more information about sunflowers should obtain a copy of the department’s publication Sunflower: NSW Planting Guide 2005-06, which can be accessed on line at www.agric.nsw.gov.au/reader/crops or at your local NSW Department of Primary Industries’ office.
Media Contact: Ron Aggs 02 4640 6457 or 0411 280 111
This story appears in Agriculture Today.