Mendocino County
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Mendocino County

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Radiant daisy-like sunflowers produce a valuable crop with little water

Sweeping acres of striking golden flowers may soon grace California's desert southwest. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali believes sunflowers may be an ideal crop for the state's most punishing agricultural region.

California produces more than 90 percent of the country's hybrid sunflower planting seed, which is shipped around the nation and world. The seed is used to grow sunflower seeds for a healthy snack or salad topper, and for seeds that are expressed into sunflower oil, valued for its clean taste and polyunsaturated fat.

Sunflowers are a potential drought-resistant rotation crop in the Southern California desert.
 

Most California seed is produced on about 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley. But the plant's low water use and early maturity hold promise for production in Southern California's low desert.

Bali's research began two years ago with 1,800 plots of sunflowers, nearly 300 different genotypes, at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. All plants were well-watered for four weeks before drought treatment started. In 2016, the trial plots were irrigated at 60 percent of the area's ETo (the full amount of water used by well-irrigated, mowed grass in that environment), and at 100 percent.

“Sunflower is a California native species grown as a hybrid seed crop,” Bali said. “With limited water, we wanted to look at varieties that tolerate drought and stress.”

That year, Bali found significant variation in yield across the varieties, but no difference between plots that received 60 percent of ETo and 100 percent

“I've been doing deficit irrigation for a long time,” Bali said. “I never expected that.”

For the 2017 season, the 60 percent ETo plots were dropped to 10 percent to better understand the implications of severe drought on the sunflower cultivars.

“The emphasis in 2017 was to intensify our drought treatment, giving less water earlier and to quantify the genotypes' drought avoidance strategy by digging up roots and using computer image analysis to determine root traits,” Bali said.

Bali attributes the sunflower crop's low water needs to its deep tap root and crop production timing. Sunflower in the low desert may be planted from January to February, and harvested in May and June.

“Sunflower water needs are relatively low since they are harvested before the hottest part of the summer,” Bali said.

His research is continuing in 2018.

Currently, the majority of California hybrid seed sunflower is grown in the Sacramento Valley.

A new UC publication, Sunflower Hybrid Seed Production in California, is now under review and is expected to be available to producers in fall 2018. Written by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachael Long and colleagues, including Bali, the publication outlines crop production standards, land preparation, fertilization, pest management, harvesting and more.

Long said sunflowers are favored for crop rotations because they help in long-term management of weeds and diseases, the plants add biomass to the soil after harvest, and they are a profitable specialty field crop.

Read more about California sunflowers in a Green Blog post by Rachael Long, Sunflower seeds are boosting California's ag economy.

Posted on Friday, June 1, 2018 at 8:41 AM

Dress right for work – check out the new UC IPM online course on personal protective equipment

gloves

Spring is in full swing and summer is right around the corner. If you work in agricultural, turf, landscape, or structural settings, you are probably at your busiest. If you handle pesticides as part of your work, you most likely wear some sort of...

Posted on Thursday, May 31, 2018 at 11:28 AM

VCLH nymphs began to emerge on May 14th, 2018

VCLH eggs per leaf 5 24

VCLH nymphs began to emerge on May 14th, 2018 This season we will once again be monitoring the development of Virginia creeper leafhopper, VCLH, (Erythroneura ziczac) and Western grape leafhopper, WGLH, (Erythroneura elegantula) populations in Mendocino...

Posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at 1:36 PM

Dust and glyphosate performance

Dust on leaves

It's getting hot and dry in the Central Valley and the movement of equipment in and out of fields/orchards/vineyards has the potential to stir up a significant amount of dust. Among its other impacts to agriculture (soil erosion, tissue damage, reduced...

Posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at 12:38 PM

Update on Automated Weeders

Steketee IC cultivating three 80-inch wide beds

In vegetable production, growers cultivate most of the bed leaving only a 4-inch wide uncultivated band around the seedline. Weeds not controlled by preemergent herbicides or cultural practices in the uncultivated band are ultimately controlled by hand....

Posted on Sunday, May 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM

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