An agronomist might call it the power of high yields.
Even though perennial ag powerhouse North Dakota harvested considerably more sunflower acres in 2015 than its sister state did, South Dakota still led the nation in sunflower production — again.
"For the third year in a row, South Dakota's the No. 1 state in sunflower production," said John Sandbakken, executive director of the North Dakota-based National Sunflower Association. "South Dakota just had phenomenal yields this (2015) year."
Sandbakken told the Capital Journal that the 2015 sunflower crop was a bin-buster and a record breaker, according to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
The USDA report on 2015 sunflower crop production charted record-high yields in both oil-type and confection sunflower, which is used for such products as snacks and bird food. Average yield of oil-type sunflower varieties increased by 119 pounds from 2014, to a record-high 1,579 pounds per acre, Sandbakken said. Meanwhile, the average yield of confection sunflower increased by 368 pounds from last year, to a record-high 1,865 pounds per acre, more than 300 pounds per acre higher than the previous record high.
Combining sunflowers grown for oil and also non-oil types grown mainly as confectionary sunflowers, South Dakota yields averaged 1,858 pounds per acre, the highest in the nation, Sandbakken said.
In Nebraska and Kansas, combined yields averaged 1,784 pounds and 1,738 pounds per acre, respectively, including sunflowers raised on both dryland and irrigated acres. North Dakota's combined yields averaged 1,523 pounds per acre.
"North Dakota had about 40,000 more harvested acres than South Dakota. It shows you that overall yield can make a difference," Sandbakken said.
In Sully County, South Dakota, frequently the national leader in sunflower production, General Manager Tim Luken of Oahe Grain Corp. said yields were very good — 2,500 to 2,700 pounds were common — but that wasn't all the crop had going for it.
"This year's crop of sunseeds was probably one of the best-quality crops we've seen in four years," Luken said.
Oil content was higher this past year than in some earlier years, Luken said. The NuSun variety coming in at Oahe Grain Corp. tested 43.5 percent oil and weighed in at 29.8 pounds per bushel, Luken said, while the high oleic sunflowers tested 44.1 percent oil and weighed 30.2 pounds per bushel.
Luken said sunflowers work great as part of a typical central South Dakota crop rotation that also includes corn, spring wheat and winter wheat. Because of that, he said, sunflowers aren't going anywhere.
If anything, Sandbakken said, sunflower acreage is likely to increase.
"I think that you're going to see that acreage is going to be up this year, 2016," Sandbakken said. He notes that while there has been some downturn in sunflower prices, sunflowers haven't lost as much as some crops.