17 August 2001

Real prospects for sunflower premium

AFTER several false dawns, sunflower has arrived as a real UK break-crop option for wheat dominated rotations.

That is the view of Peter Hutley-Bull of the UK Sunflower Association who has been developing the crop for 26 years and believes it has a bright future.

The key is a new class of sunflowers with a heat requirement matching UK conditions, says Dr Hutley-Bull. "Until recently an accumulation of 1400 heat units between drilling in late April or early May and harvest was needed for the crop to ripen. Often it could not be harvested until mid October.

"But then I saw an experimental line in my trials that ripened a lot sooner. It was clear it has a lower heat requirement." That greatly improves the prospect of drilling following wheats on time, he says.

His observation turned into the French-bred variety Antonil.

It needs only 1300 heat units and has been classified by the UKSA as an extra early type ready for combining in mid-September. Before its arrival in 1999, the crop could be grown but the risk level could be high, limiting uptake.

Being sown late, sunflowers provide an excellent cleaning crop giving plenty of time to hit difficult weeds. It is highly competitive with only a single dose of Stomp (pendimethalin) normally needed to keep it weed-free. &#42

UK SUNFLOWERS

&#8226 About 600ha (1500 acres) grown.

&#8226 Big potential for expansion.

&#8226 Cleaning crop for rotation.

&#8226 Low input wheat entry.

&#8226 New varieties for mid-Sept harvest.