production guide

Rotational fitAgronomy and irrigationWeed managementDisease managementInsect managementHarvestingStorageMarketing

Key sunflower production tips

Starting soil water

  • Plant into 80–100 cm of wet soil to minimise the risk of crop failure and maximise economic returns.

  • Prior to sowing, use a soil corer (preferred method) or push probe, to determine the amount of stored water in the soil profile.

  • If there is less than 80 cm of wet soil (equivalent to ~135 mm plant available water in sandy loam soils of lower water holding capacity), consider not sowing sunflowers. The hotter the environment the more soil moisture is required to minimise production risk.

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Paddock history

  • Be aware of herbicide residues in the soil. Sunflowers are particularly sensitive to sulfonylurea and picloram herbicide residues.

  • Sunflowers are suited to no-till farming systems. They are usually sown after a no-till long fallow to take advantage of stored soil moisture.

  • If there is adequate sub-soil moisture, sunflowers can be sown as an opportunity crop following a winter cereal.

  • Consider disease management strategies to limit risk of planting into a reservoir of pathogen inoculum.

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Hybrid selection

  • Select high yielding hybrids that have the desired traits for your growing conditions.

  • Understand the end use requirements of the target market and ensure that your production system supports delivery of a high quality product that meets the market’s standards.

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Planting equipment

  • Establishment of a uniformly distributed, appropriately targeted plant population for paddock conditions will maximise the yield potential of any field.

  • Sunflowers can be successfully sown with precision planters, air seeders and combines, however precision planters with press wheels are the recommended option to provide best seeding accuracy.

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Sowing time

  • Monounsaturated sunflower hybrids are suited to both spring and summer planting in most regions. Birdseed sunflower hybrids are better suited to sowing in summer in NSW, Victoria and southern Queensland.

  • Avoid sowing summer crops too late because cooler conditions later in the growing season can favour the development of diseases such as sclerotinia. Late sown crops are also more likely to dry-down slowly and may require desiccation prior to harvest to meet delivery standards.

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Crop nutrition

  • At planting, ensure the crop can access sufficient soil moisture and nitrogen to achieve the target yield.

  • Base your nitrogen fertiliser applications on target yield, soil test results, plant available water at sowing, previous crop yield and desired oil content in the seed. Excess nitrogen applications can reduce the oil content percentage of the seed.

  • Use paddock records and soil tests to determine if other nutrients, such as phosphorus, sulfur and potassium are limiting.

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Weed control

  • Control weeds prior to planting. Weed control in the first seven weeks following emergence is critical. If left unchecked, weed competition in the early crop stages will restrict yield potential.

  • Establish a uniform plant stand to maximise the crop’s ability to suppress weed growth.

  • Use effective weed control options, especially for grasses. Rotate herbicide groups across the cropping sequence to reduce the risk of resistance to Group A herbicides establishing in grass weed populations.

  • Avoid planting sunflowers into paddocks with a high broadleaf weed burden.

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Insect control

  • Prior to sowing and at establishment, monitor and control insects, especially wireworms.

  • From budding to grain fill, monitor (and control where necessary) Rutherglen bugs and helicoverpa to reduce the damage to developing heads and kernels. Any sort of head damage can predispose the crop to rhizopus head rot in wet weather or heavy dews.

  • Assess the potential for mice and bird damage and take steps to protect the crop if necessary.

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Disease control

  • Be aware of the disease history of each rotational crop for each paddock.

  • Familiarise yourself with the biology of any pathogens to ensure you are not planting into an inoculum reservoir.

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  • Aim to harvest and deliver seed as close to 9% moisture as possible.

  • Typically, sunflower seed is drier than expected.

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The Better Sunflowers Big Yellow Sunflower Pack is a valuable reference for growers and advisors, containing the most up-to-date resource of knowledge and research on sunflower production in Australia. The original Big Black Sunflower Pack was published in 2004, which was followed in October 2010 by the First Big Yellow Sunflower Pack. Updates on the BYSP have occurred in 2012, 2015 and the next version is currently being updated in 2021.

The BYSP was developed to support the agronomic workshops delivered by the Australian Sunflower Association. The modules are written, reviewed and presented by acknowledged industry experts. Featuring a mix of theory, demonstrations and hands-on activities, the workshops also provide those attending with an opportunity to gain nationally recognised qualifications. Both the workshop content and the BYSP have been developed to ensure they remain relevant and easy to use.

Better Sunflowers represents a very strong partnership across all sunflower industry sectors and is supported by significant in-kind contributions from many organisation, businesses and individuals.

Thankyou to the many people who specifically contributed to the Better Sunflowers Big Yellow Sunflower Pack over its many versions and years.