Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
More growers choose sunflowers this spring

United Oilseeds has launched the first buying pool for UK sunflower seeds – worth £350-450/tonne for a crop that yields about 1-2t/ha.

The crop can be drilled from about 10 April onwards depending on frost and wet conditions but a consistent soil temperature of 7°C is the main driver for the drilling window.

Tight supplies of spring cereal seed are expected to see more farmers grow sunflowers this year. Plant breeder Grainseed is reporting significant interest in its best-selling early maturing variety Es Bella.

Consistent performer

Bella has performed consistently well in UK trials and commercially in England. It has a high oil content of 48-50%, good standing ability, reducing neck snapping, high dry matter yield and good disease resistance.

Sunflowers can be successfully grown south of a line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel –  but climate change and increasing temperatures means this area is expanding northwards.

Grainseed sunflower specialist Edward Stanford says: “I can see sunflowers really flourishing in the UK within 5 years – and early adopters can try out this great alternative spring crop in 2024.”

A low-input crop, seed is the most expensive input. Sunflowers are sown at 110,000 seeds/ha or 120,000 seeds/ha on heavier clay soils to achieve a target population of 100,000 plants/ha on a 25-45cm row width.

Seed is treated with a fungicide to protect from damping off and seedling blight. To prevent disease, sunflowers should not be grown more often than one year in four. Growers should not follow sunflowers with potatoes.

Drilling in April means weeds such as blackgrass can be controlled by a stale seedbed and glyphosate. Pre-emergent herbicide can be used for early weed control with a dense crop canopy preventing problems later in the season.

Pigeons can be problematic for the first 10 days post-drilling. Slugs at seedling stage can also be a risk. But once the crop has two cotyledons, it rarely needs further protection against these pests. Fertiliser needs are low and often zero.