IN a tough year for summer crops, a small group of growers lucky enough to be under timely, localised storms on Queensland’s southern Darling Downs have hit the jackpot with their sunflower crops this season.
A sea of yellow, brightly flowering sunflowers spreads across the farmlands in the Back Plains/Ryeford area between Clifton and Felton where a small number of growers between them have grown about 1400 hectares of the oilseed this season.
With the crops looking a picture, the growers are set to reap the rewards of sunflowers being in short supply and currently worth around $1200/tonne on the horsefeed and birdseed markets.
For Jason and Nedine Reimers, their 45ha crop of Sungold 62 that has grown remarkably well and is just a few weeks from harvest is a windfall they didn’t expect when they planted it in the midst of an extremely hot and dry summer.
Mr Reimers said they had intended planting mungbeans into the paddock, but because conditions were so hot and dry they decided to go with a tap-rooted crop.
A fall of 46 millimetres of rain on January 1 and 2 gave them enough moisture to plant the sunflowers on January 10.
The crop was planted into sorghum stubble from last year with a Monosem double disc planter on 75-centimetre rows at a little over 44,000 seeds/ha.
It was helped along with a fall of 10mm on January 12, followed by a “mad” 43mm storm on January 14 that came down in 15 minutes.
Then there was a prolonged, dry, hot period before 37mm fell over three days in the middle of February.
But Mr Reimers said it was the 100mm of soft, gentle rain in March that really set the crop up for a spectacular finish.
“Because we had intended going with mungbeans, there was no pre-fertiliser put down. And because it was such a dry summer we didn’t have the opportunity either to put on any Dual to control summer weeds. So, we basically planted on January 10th, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best,” he said.
“Having the tap root, it got us through the hot, dry period. The crop didn’t get overly tall, but it is putting it all into the heads now.
“The way summer was looking we were thinking it would be a complete right off, but the way it has turned out has been an excellent result.”
With no fertiliser costs, and only an outlay on an insecticide spraying for heliothis and Rutherglen bugs and some herbicide application, Mr Reimers said it was a cheap crop to grow.
“Not having any fertiliser down was a blessing in the end because, with it so hot and dry early on, it probably would have done more damage,” he said.
Another grower in the district and Australian Sunflower Association chair, Kevin Charlesworth, said he and the others had taken a risk, but it had paid off.
He has already harvested 80ha of sunflowers and has another 80ha that are flowering.
Mr Charlesworth said growers in his district had been lucky this season compared to most other production regions where conditions had been particularly tough.
“It has been a dismal season for sunflowers in most areas. It has probably been the worst season ever. Cargill came out early and said they wouldn’t be crushing because they knew there wouldn’t be much around,” he said.
Australian Oilseeds Federation executive director, Nick Goddard, said there were very few sunflowers grown in Central Queensland this year, a few on the Darling Downs and Liverpool Plains, and, unusually, quite a lot along the Murray River where growers had taken advantage of high soil moisture levels at the end of the year.
Mr Goddard said the Murray region had been a core sunflower-growing area in the 1970s and 1980s, but had dropped out of production due to substantial losses from birds decimating crops.
“But it has come back this year with more vigour. There is enough down there for some sunflowers to be crushed at some of the southern crush plants this year,” he said.
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