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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Sunflowers Can Help the Wheat Grow

By Dennis Senft
December 13, 1996

Farmers who plant winter wheat in rotation with sunflowers could reap about 12 bushels more wheat per acre on the Central Great Plains, according to the Agricultural Research Service.

ARS researchers say the key is to leave 2-foot high sunflower stalks standing after harvest rather than chopping them down to the ground level.

The taller stalks help trap drifting snow, reduce wind erosion and slow the evaporation of moisture in the soil. This results in soil trapping up to 3 more inches of moisture for the wheat. Then, after an 11-month fallow period, farmers should use minimum tillage to seed winter wheat through the sunflower plant residue. Winter wheat plants sprout and grow in the fall, go dormant during winter and resume growing in spring.

After the wheat is harvested in July, its stubble protects soil for 11 months just like the sunflower stalks did. Sunflowers are then planted the following June for harvest that October.

Scientists say such a practice results in farmers getting two crops every 3 years versus one wheat crop every other year produced in the traditional wheat-fallow system.

Scientific contact: David C. Nielsen, USDA-ARS Central Great Plains Research Station, Akron, Colo., phone (970) 345-2259.

Last Modified: 5/15/2017
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