4 Tips to Brighten Your Sunflower Harvest

Paul Gregor
Diverse Field Crops Product Manager (Canola, Sunflower, Wheat)
If you grow sunflowers in the Upper Midwest, you’re probably preparing for harvest or just starting to harvest your crop. Before combining, be sure to pay attention to the physiological maturity of your plants in order to harvest properly. Here are a few harvest tips to help save you some headaches.
 
1. Harvest in a timely manner.
It’s common for farmers to wait too long to harvest their sunflower crops. When this occurs, seeds can become too dry and, as a result, seed loss can be substantial. Ideally, you want  sunflower heads to stay largely intact as they go out the back of the combine. Waiting too long to harvest can cause the heads to break up into many pieces, which prohibits the sieves on the back of the combine from effectively separating the seeds from the trash. This causes seeds to be lost out the back of the combine.  
 
2. Remember that looks can be deceiving.
Even if your sunflowers don’t look like they’re ready to harvest, they might be. For example, CROPLAN® sunflower varieties 432 E and 549 CL can actually be harvested sooner than looks might indicate — before they display fully dried leaves, yellow heads or brown bracts. That’s why it’s crucial not to rely on visual cues alone. Make sure you’re going into your fields to evaluate plant heads and seeds, and not just eyeing plants while driving past the field.
 
3. Check for acceptable harvest loss.
Be sure to go behind the combine and see how much seed you’re losing out the back. For example, if you’re dropping 10 seeds per square foot, that’s 100 pounds of yield lost per acre. Determine what amount of seed loss is acceptable, and then adjust the combine to help mitigate that if it’s too high. Turning down the air, reducing the speed of the intake auger, slowing the cylinder speed and adjusting the concave setting can help.
 
4. Harvest at the right moisture level.
It is recommended that sunflowers be harvested when plants are between 12 and 15 percent moisture. As mentioned previously, waiting until plants are too dry can result in more trash and more seeds going out the back of the combine. Harvesting in the 12 to 15 percent range allows you to do a better job of combining and capturing all of your seed, and reduces the likelihood of combine fires. Then, once you finish combining and take the seed to your bins, you’ll need effective aeration for proper drying. The most important thing before you get seed in the bin is to know what your moisture level is and not to put a lot of trash in the bin, which helps reduce spoilage.
 
Work with your agronomist to make harvesting your sunflowers pay off in both yield and ROI potential this season.
 
 
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