4 August 1995

Stress-free sunflowers look lush in Cambs

LUSH, green, and even is not a description that fits most spring oilseed crops this season. But a crop of sunflowers in Cambridgeshire looks so well that farmer Richard Brown reckons it could be the best he has grown in the past 10 years.

Despite little rain since drilling at Bottom Farm, Covington, near Huntingdon, at the end of April, his 29.5ha (73 acres) have grown vigorously and show no signs of stress.

Seed size is a key factor, says Mr Brown. "You cant get small-seeded crops to grow well in a dry year. My spring-sown cress looks embarrassing." Bigger sunflower seeds can be drilled deeper into moisture and give the plant a more vigorous start, encouraging strong early root growth, he maintains.

A good start has helped the crop perform consistently on his chalky boulder clay. Since 1989 yields have exceeded 2t/ha (16cwt/acre), apart from the wet 1992, when yields slipped to 1.65t/ha (13.3cwt/acre).

This years crop should match the 2.5t/ha (20cwt/acre) output of the early 90s. Assuming a price of £170/t, low input costs of £131/ha (£53/acre) and area aid of some £450/ha (£182/acre) that should give a gross margin of £745/ha (£301/acre), he reckons.

Mr Brown expects to harvest his sunflowers at the end of September or early October. Home-made trays fitted to the combine header channel the crop on to the table, allowing fast, high cutting to stop losses and to reduce intake of green material.

"Sunflowers are not a Noddy crop. They are perfectly suited to our climate. The range of new varieties means there is plenty to choose from, and they can now be grown as far north as Yorkshire," says Mr Brown.