As you are driving around Wayne County you might notice a lot of sunflower fields around the county. What is your initial thought when you see them? Some may think they were planted to take pictures with them, but did you know these fields were planted to be harvested for the oil they produce?
Some of the sunflowers you see around the county are planted by Scott Myers - Woodlyn Acres. His farming operation is all organic and they have been organic for the past seven years. Besides sunflowers they also grow field corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and small grains which includes wheat, barley, oats, and cereal rye. A new crop that they are growing this year is canola. In the springtime the fields that have been planted in canola you will notice them blooming yellow. After the canola is harvested it will be transported to Kentucky to make cooking oil.
The Myers family have been growing sunflowers for three years. This year they planted around 300 acres of sunflowers! Woodlyn Acres contracts all their sunflowers through Purdue Agribusiness. Once the sunflowers are harvested Purdue Agribusiness comes and transports them to Georgia where they will be used to make cooking oil. One fun fact is Purdue contracts a lot of sunflowers with farmers in Ohio and Pennsylvania to be grown because it is so hot in Georgia and heat affects the oil content of the seeds. Ohio and Pennsylvania stay in the ideal temperature range to successfully grow sunflowers. Sunflowers are still grown in the South, but like I mentioned earlier the heat lowers the oil content. The farmers get paid by the oil content so for those farmers they will get less income from the sunflowers they produce.
When it is time for harvest a special header is needed. The sunflower is cut about halfway up the stalk and the header on the combine is equipped with multiple catch pans that gently vibrate to catch the heads and sunflower seeds as the combine is moving through the field. The vibration of the plates allows the seeds and heads to float towards the combines hopper. The seeds are then separated from the head before placed in the hopper. The hopper on a combine is where the seeds are stored during harvest. The hopper on all combines can only hold a certain amount of grain, once it becomes full the combine operator must empty it into a grain cart or semi before any additional harvesting can continue.
After the sunflowers have been harvested, they must be cleaned then dried to a moisture content of 10%. During the winter months sunflowers can be stored at a moisture content of 10% or less but it is recommended if you are storing sunflowers in the summer to have the moisture at 8% or less. Once the sunflowers dry to the recommended moisture they are then picked up and they are transported to Georgia where they are crushed, and the oil is used for organic cooking oil then the meal (remaining seed material) is used in livestock feed as an added ingredient. For Scotts sunflower meal it is used in chicken feed!
The biggest states that plant sunflowers are California, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas. The following statistics came from the Ag MRC agricultural marketing resource center: in 2021 1.29 million acres of sunflowers were produced and the average yield of sunflowers was 1,554 lb per acre. The United States grows about 90% oil sunflowers and 10% confectionary sunflowers. For every 100 pounds of seeds that yields around 40 pounds of oil, 35 pounds of meal and 20-25 pounds of other by-products. Oil sunflowers are used to make cooking oil and confectionary sunflowers are used for food-grade seeds, packaged seeds, and ingredients. Example of food-grade seeds are ones that are sold on the shell and are normally roasted, salted, or flavored before they are packaged to sell. Packaged seeds are dehulled then roasted before they are used as ingredients in food.
Sunflowers are becoming a very popular crop to grow especially in the Northern states because of the milder summers and colder winters which helps with diseases that affect sunflower production. Until I started scouting for Scott through the OSU Extension Integrated Pest Management Program, I did not know you could plant and harvest sunflowers as a crop in Ohio. I really enjoyed talking with Scott about his sunflower program and really learned a lot, I hope you also learned something from this article as well!
Shelby Tedrow is an ANR and 4-H Program Assistant with the OSU Extension Office in Wayne County.
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This article was previously published in The Wooster Weekly News and The Bargain Hunter.