Sunflowers Going Incognito

Sunflowers Going Incognito

There is a demand for more Sunflower seed production and they are going incognito in an attempt to hide from the birds who are their number one enemy.

Hybrid Sunflower seeds are preferred for growing over pollinated varieties because of the controlled harvested seed content and quality. The futures market drives what kind of seed is planted at any given time. The market demand may be for high oil content as it is presently. Hybridized varieties are more disease resistant, have more or less oil content, have higher yields, have faster rate to maturity, and can regulate seed size. Sunflower seeds are harvested after about 120 days. They can be used to make biofuels, cooking oils, additives for animal feed, poultry litter, fireplace logs, fillers for plastic, and human food consumption.

Sunflower growers are faced with many challenges concerning ability to produce more seed. They need to keep the moisture content up for high seed counts and their number one enemy is Blackbirds. Five hundred growers in North and South Dakota lose twenty five percent of their harvest to Blackbirds. This is pretty significant considering the following percentages:

6% to disease

7% to insects

5% to weeds

3% waste during harvesting

On average, North Dakota and South Dakota growers lose two percent to Blackbirds but those living within five miles of ponds containing cattails, the ideal nesting ground for Blackbirds, will have higher losses. That accounts for the five hundred having a fifty percent loss.  Drastic measures are made to keep the Blackbirds from eating the crops. Powerful Cannons are shot during the day to scare the birds off, helicopters and airplanes dive bomb the birds and chase them off, and ugliest of all is the method of poisoning rice to totally eradicate the birds. Cutting down their favorite nesting environment seems to be the friendliest way to approach the problem but it’s very time consuming and growers see it a futile.

Blackbirds eat insects early in the nesting process as the protein is needed for  making eggs and feeding the young. Once the babies leave the nest, the birds concentrate on mostly grain and seed. They need the oils inside to fatten up for the winter. Those that migrate are the most ravenous eaters. Blackbirds can travel in flocks of over a million birds.  When they spot at a favorite place to settle down for the night, they will strip the sunflower fields within 5 miles of their night nesting ground. They prefer boggy ponds with cattails. They roost on the cattail reeds.

Growers can harvest their crops early to avoid the blackbird diet change from insects to seed. They must plant early for this process to be successful. They must use seed that has been genetically engineered to have a faster growth rate. The seed is more expensive but solves the bird issue. More seed is being tested to be bird resistant. Coatings for the seed are being developed and make the seed less desirable to the birds. Anything in my opinion would be better than feeding the birds poisoned rice to eat. So in an attempt to help the growers, the sunflowers have gone incognito to hide from the birds. So now you know!

The sunflower is a composite flower. Viewing the above photo allows you to see that the inner circle of Disc flowers are actually flowers themselves. The outer flowers that are large and ornamental are called the Rays. The Disc flowers will become the seed for harvesting. The pattern inside the flower is a Fibonacci Spiral. The lines of cells making the spiral fit a mathematical equation that states, each new seed row is the sum of the two previous numbers. Medium to small sunflowers have 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other. Larger heads will have 89 and 144.  The plant grows in this pattern as a means to occupy as much space on the flower head as possible for the production of seeds. Pine-cones and Pineapples do this also.

Once seeds have germinated in the ground and the seedlings are up producing their own leaves, you need to regularly fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer. That is a big head to feed. The leaves are going to be busy. The soil should be moist but not wet. The soil should also be prepared with a lot of good mulch. Sunflowers have a very fibrous root system. The better the roots like their home, the more seeds on the head. The quality of sunflower seeds will taste better too. Dry seeds are not good.

Sunflower seeds are twenty percent protein, thirty percent lipids, and they have a high linoleic acid content making a short shelf life. New hybrids are continually being developed for high yield and low oil content, high yield and high oil, disease resistance, and rate of maturity to seed. The rate of maturity to seed will help the grower harvest the seed before the birds go into their grain eating stage. Remember, they eat insects while raising their young. When the birds get ready to migrate or when they are mature, they switch their diet to grains and seed.

North and South Dakota are the primary sunflower producing states. They have a serious problem with blackbirds and daily geneticist are working to develop a seed that is unattractive to the birds. They are on the cutting edge of a breakthrough. In these times and with what our research scientist know, we’ve come into an age of super plants. Super plants are mostly about yields and insect resistance but the benefits are biofuels and solving hunger. Don’t be afraid of super plants. They are here to save us.

References and Resources:

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautiful informative piece. The sunglasses on the sunflower is a riot! Thanks for compiling all of this info for us! I love sunflowers. They are so happy! Kathryn xoxo
    *** So glad you like this piece and today in my garden—are tons more to photo. They are popping out now and making the garden glow.


  2. Philip says:

    This is such an interesting post! Very well researched and new info.
    You have a great blog.
    ****Thank you Philip and I loved writing this post. I have always enjoyed sunflowers growing in anyones garden.


  3. You lived in ND? at the air force base? :-0, I need to know more, you know how cold it gets then :D.


  4. Jan says:

    Very interesting and informative posting. I lost my sunflower heads to squirrels this year. At least that’s one pest growers don’t have to deal with.

    Always Growing
    ***Thank you for visiting and it’s a treat when you stop by. I’m sorry you lost your sunflowers. I’m in an all out battle for mine. The winds from a microbust tried to knock them down—but I propped them back up! They survived and who would have thought after being uprooted they would make it.


  5. LOL! I had to come back this morning and see your sunflower, it makes me smile :D. Right now there’s nothing better than my cup o coffee and your sunflower! teehee****Hopefully, you should be getting a big box today that will make you smile even more.


  6. Sylvia says:

    Thank you for a interesting and enjoyable post Anna. Our blackbirds are very territorial so we only get them in twos and they are very welcome in the garden. I assume a totally different species to yours – thank goodness. Sun flowers are not grown as a commercial crop here very often. I have seen them a couple of times but I think these were for animal feed. The main crop being grown for biofuel is oilseed rape (a Brassica), a yellow flower which causes awful hayfever for a lot of people.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)
    *****We have lots of sunflower fields and a demand for more. It’s mostly a midwestern crop but there are fields of it in NC. They look breathetaking planted in masses. My cousin has a 10 acre field of them. I need to go take pics of that.


  7. cindee says:

    I think my sunflower needed those glasses!!!! That could be why the grasshoppers devoured him. Poor guy. (-; I should have fertilized more…)-: **** I have some sunflowers that the Japanese beetles have eaten but the plants are still standing. We’ll see if the bloom. I have abotu 3 different varieties of sunflowers in my garden. In is called Teddy Bear with big fluffy blooms.


  8. I had to run to the bathroom quick because I was laughing so hard when I saw the sunflower in disguise! I can tell you first hand about blackbirds! and the beautiful sunflowers that grown in ND :). I think Alfred Hitchcock had blackbirds in mind when he made “The Birds” LOL…what a wonderful post about sunflowers, each year I think I am going to plant a couple and I never do, partly due to the blackbirds but now I need to rethink that for next year, do you plant from seeds? Great post Anna! 🙂
    *****I’m already thinking of how I’m going to protect my seed from the birds. I had to take my birdfeeder down due to the blackbirds. Makes me so mad! We lived in ND for 4 years and I remember how beautiful the fields were.


  9. Cinj says:

    LOL! Loved the pic of the sunflower in disguise. I never knew any one person knew so much about sunflowers that didn’t farm them. Very intersting, thanks for sharing.


  10. Wow, wow and more wow. That was a good article. I learned a lot about sunflowers. You should be so very proud.~~Dee *****Thank you so much! I learned a lot too but enjoyed every minute of it. I sure respect growers more now.


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