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Field view May 15, 2003Well, this is going to be our sunflower field. It's mid-May and it's time to plant.  Actually, our "field" is only about one acre, but for our purposes one acre is enough. We will treat the field just like farmers that grow many acres of sunflower.  Last year, this field was planted to soybean. A couple months ago our field was disked to remove weed seedlings.  There's a chance that it's going to rain tonight, so we want to plant before it rains. Otherwise, the field will be too muddy and it might be several days before we are able to plant again.

Checking manual

Before we can plant we have to get the planter ready. That requires reading the manual to determine the specific settings for sunflower.

Planter plateThis is a planter plate. The seed will fit into those notches and as the planter moves forward the plate will spin and the seed falls into a tube that places the seed into the soil. In the bottom right corner of the picture there's a black tube, that's the top part of the seed tube. Unfortunately, the plate we have here is a corn plate, but we are going to have to use it. I'm afraid we might plant too many seeds per acre, but we'll see. 

Adjusting planter gearsThe next item we have to adjust are the gears. If we use the wrong gears the planter plates may spin too fast or too slow and then we will have planted too many seeds or not enough. So, this is very important. 

Pouring seedWe've got the planter adjusted and it's time to put seed into the planter boxes and head to the field.  Let's get a closer look at the seed.  


OilseedThis is the seed we planted. The hybrid is Triumph 665.  These black, shiny seeds are an example of oilseed sunflower. Oilseed sunflower is used for many different purposes, primarily for cooking oil, lubricating oil for machines, and even birdseed. The kind you eat for a snack is called confectionary sunflower.  

Oil Vs. Confectionary seedsConfectionary seeds, on the right, are larger than oil sunflower seeds and they are striped.  


Pulling into fieldThe planter has arrived at the field and Dr. Ray Lamond, soil fertility specialist, is going to plant for us. He will start planting now, but he will drive only a short distance and then we'll want to check to see how deeply we're planting the seed.

Checking seed depthRay is scraping back the soil in order to find some seeds. (Ray is getting lots of gray hair, don't you think?) Because we're planting about one seed every nine inches sometimes it's rather difficult to find any seeds. We hope the seeds are about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the surface, but I'm not too worried about our planting depth because Ray just finished planting soybean this morning and soybean and sunflower should be planted at the same depth.

Seed depthWell, we finally found a seed and it's at the appropriate planting depth--about 2 inches deep. It's important that seed be planted into moist soil, as it is here, so it will germinate quickly.  If we plant too deeply, it's more difficult for seedlings to emerge and there's a greater chance the seedlings will not survive. 

PlantingOkay, everything is ready to go and Ray is chomping at the bit. We're planting now.  This is a four-row, John Deere 7200 MaxEmerge 2 planter. (By all standards this is a small planter. Most farmers have larger planters that cover more acres in a day. But our planter is just about the right size for planting small areas.) We are planting in 30-inch row spacings and as I mentioned earlier, we're planting about one seed every nine inches within each row.  You can see where the seed is being placed into the soil--that's where the soil is disturbed. We need to look a little closer at this planter. 

Planter side closeupHere's a great side view of a planter unit. Let's start from the left side. First, you see a fluted disk opener that cuts through any crop residue and opens the soil. Directly behind the fluted disk there's a double-disk that slices the soil where the seed will be placed. The big yellow wheel is the depth wheel, which keeps the planter from planting too deeply.  Under the "MaxEmerge2" sign you can see two plastic tubes. The short one comes from the fertilizer box and it drops the fertilizer into the soil. The second tube, which isn't being used, is connected to the insecticide attachment.  We really can't see the seed tube, but if you see the two large bolts above the double-disks and the depth wheel, that's about  where the seed tube is coming down from the seed box. The angled press wheels bring up the rear and their job is to squeeze the soil over the seed so there's good seed to soil contact. We want the seed to be tightly pressed to the soil so the seed can germinate quickly. 

Planter sideWe're only planting at about 4 to 5 miles per hour, but even at that speed the dust still flies.  It won't take Ray too long to plant this field, but we won't be done for the day. We need to take care of weeds that are growing. 

Weed seedlingsIt appears that we have a minor problem. Weed seedlings, more specifically, venice mallow seedlings are scattered across the field. We need to do something about this. 

Herbicide applicationDr. Dallas Peterson, weed specialist, is making a herbicide application that should take care of the weeds that have emerged.  He's using a small-plot sprayer that covers only two rows at a time. Again, farmers would use much larger spray equipment to treat their fields, but this sprayer works fine for us. Let's see what herbicides he used.

Herbicide usedHe used Roundup and Dual. Roundup will control the venice mallow and other seedlings that have emerged and Dual will control any grassy weeds that in our field. We used 26 ounces per acre of Roundup and 1.3 pints per acre of Dual.  I'm a little concerned about other weeds, such as cocklebur. Our herbicide combination won't control them and I suspect we will have a cocklebur problem before too long.  We could have used Spartan, which would give a little cocklebur control, but not very much.  We'll probably have to cultivate to remove the cockleburs if they cause a problem. 

Herbicide pouringJust like the planting procedure, before we can make the weed control treatment we have to get everything ready. In this case, we have to measure the exact amount of herbicides and pour into the spray tank, fill with the appropriate amount of water, check to see if all nozzles are working and then we can go to the field.