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Pilsen farmer has high hopes for sunflower crop

Staff writer

Randy Svitak is anticipating big things from his sunflower crop as harvest nears.

“Hopefully this year the oil content is really good so we get a good premium,” he said. “It’s high in oleic oil.”

Svitak thinks they are among the largest sunflower growers in Marion County. This year they will harvest 1,200 acres, and Svitak expects their best profit since starting 15 to 20 years ago.

Sunflowers are weighed in quantities of 100 pounds. Svitak already has contracted his yield for $20-plus per 100 pounds.

“When it gets hot, corn will dry up,” he said. “Sunflowers won’t because they’re a really hearty crop. They still like water but they aren’t hurt as severely as corn and beans.”

Svitak and his sons run Svitak Hay Farms.

“We just wanted to be diversified,” he said. “Earlier in the spring it looked like if we could raise decent ones then it would pencil out better than corn or soybeans. We thought we’d try more acres. Usually we just go behind the wheat but this year we took a lot of acres away from soybeans and went to flowers.”

After investing many years in sunflowers, Svitak and his family have found that it helps to invest in special equipment.

“They have to have a special header to cut them, if you want to save most of them, and this year we just purchased a sunflower row-header out of the Dakotas,” he said.

Svitak Hay Farms ships its sunflower crop to Lamar, Colorado, where the oil is extracted for various uses and the sunflower by product is ground into cattle feed.

The growing season requires careful planning, Svitak said.

“Get them in the moisture as quickly as you can,” he said. “Last year we didn’t follow the combine right away after the wheat harvest, and they were put in dry. Then they didn’t come up until it rained. By then it was way too late, and they got frosted.”

Profit largely is determined by oil quality. Last year’s crop did not fare well. The poor quality and lack of quantity of the oil reduced their profits.

“They’re a big nitrogen user,” he said. “You can’t just put them out and think you’re going to raise a big crop or think they’re a cheap crop to raise. The inputs are just as much as corn or milo and they’re harder to harvest.”

Weeds are an especially concerning menace, Svitak said. Unlike with corn, sunflowers aren’t “Roundup ready” and only can be sprayed once a year.

“You get a one-time shot at controlling them and if you miss that then you’re shot for the year,” he said.

Moths and other stock-boring insects threaten sunflowers, but Svitak also doesn’t want to kill off beneficial insects along with harmful ones.

“You constantly have to watch them,” he said. “We don’t spray with the dangerous chemicals because it kills all the good insects. We spray with a thing called Prevathon, and all that kills is the larvae.”

Last modified Sept. 10, 2020

 

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