Everything you need to know about farming and growing sunflower. Learn about:- 1. Introduction to Sunflower 2. Origin and History of Sunflower 3. Climate and Soil 4. Geographic Distribution 5. About the Sunflower Plant 6. Field Preparation 7. Sowing Time 8. Manure and Fertilizers 9. Water Management 10. Weed Management 11. Cropping Systems 12. Harvesting and Threshing 13. Yields and Decorticating.
Sunflower Farming: How to Grow Sunflower in India [A Guide for Farmers]
- Introduction to Sunflower
- Origin and History of Sunflower
- Climate and Soil Required for Growing Sunflower
- Geographic Distribution of Sunflower
- About the Sunflower Plant
- Field Preparation of Sunflower
- Sowing Time of Sunflower
- Manure and Fertilizers Required for Sunflower
- Water Management of Sunflower
- Weed Management of Sunflower
- Cropping Systems of Sunflower
- Harvesting and Threshing of Sunflower
- Yields and Decorticating of Sunflower
1. Introduction to Sunflower:
Sunflower also known as surajmukhi is the third most important oilseed crop of the world. Like the Soyabean and the oil palm, the sunflower is a commercial oil crop that plays an outstanding role in the world market.
There are two types of commercial sunflower, viz.:
(i) Oilseed — its small black seed is very high in oil content. It is processed into sunflower oil and meal, and is also used for feeding birds, and
(ii) Non-oilseed (confectionery sunflower) —its larger black and white striped seed is used to make a variety of food products from snacks to bread.
Sunflower holds a great promise because of its short maturity duration and its photo-insensitivity make the crop suitable for being fitted into existing cropping systems. Its relative resistance to drought and saline conditions would encourage its cultivation in the problem areas, wide adaptability and drought tolerance, sunflower oil is considered as the premium oil compared to most other vegetable oil because of its light colour, bland flavour, high smoke point, high level of linoleic acid and absence of linolenic acid.
Comparatively high oil content (45-50%) in the seed, relatively high amount (60%) of poly-unsaturated fatty acids which has pleasant flavour, an excellent keeping quality, when refined and ease of oil extraction by country method make this crop suitable for adoption by the Indian peasant farmer.
Sunflower oil is used in making margarine and is regarded as good cooking oil. Its oil is a rich source of linoleic acid (66%), which helps in reducing cholesterol in the coronary arteries of the heart. The oil is used for manufacturing hydrogenated oil, soaps and cosmetics.
Its cake contains 40-44% quality protein coupled with balanced amino acids, which makes it a high quality feed, ideally suited for poultry and livestock feeding. However, the response of farmers regarding its adoption has not been enthusiastic as was expected because of several reasons, chief amongst which are its susceptibility to bird attack (especially parrots), non-uniform grain filling especially in the centre of the capitulum and lack of availability of good-quality seed of high yielding varieties and hybrids.
2. Origin and History:
Universally, the sunflower is the flower of pride and cheerfulness. There is a legend based on Greek mythology that tells us the origin of the sunflower. The legend has it that once upon a time, Clytie, a dryad, deeply fell in love with Apollo, the God of the Sun. But Apollo felt no love for her. Hence, all she could do was just sitting and fixing her eyes only on her beloved sun from sunrise until sunset.
Magically, the body of Clytie was changed into a sunflower. Her legs turned to be the stem while the face became the flower. Her gold hair became the yellow petals. Though, in the form of a flower, Clytie still turned her face to the sun all the time. That is why the sunflower always turns its head to the sun.
Actually, the sunflower is a native plant of North America. It is said that the plant was cultivated, in about 3000 BC, by Indians in the area which is the present-day Arizona and New Mexico. Then, around 1500 AD, the sunflower was taken to Europe by Spanish explorers. There, it was planted as an ornamental plant. This exotic flower, later, gained its popularity as a commercial crop when it was brought to Russia.
The sunflower was introduced into Europe in the 1600s and it became widely grown in Russia. Its cultivation is presumed to begin in Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. The tall mono-head sunflower seems to have been developed as early as the 6th century.
In 16th century, Spaniards introduced domesticated sunflower from Mexico to Europe as an ornamental plant. In 18th century, it was introduced into Russia from Netherland as ornamental plant and its potential as edible oil source was recognized.
3. Climate and Soil Required for Growing Sunflower:
Sunflower, though basically a temperate region crop, but varieties adapted to a wide range of agro-climatic zones have been developed. It is raised from 40°S to 55°N latitudes, but major production lies between the latitudes 20° and 55°N and 40°S latitudes. The crop can be raised up to an altitude of 2,500 m.
Sunflower crop requires a cool climate during germination and seedling growth, warm weather from seedling stage upto flowering. Sunflower successfully tolerates temperature range of 8-34°C, indicating its adaptation to the regions with warm days and cold nights. However, the optimum temperature for growth ranges from 20-25°C.
The crop performs best with a rainfall of 300-500 mm during the growing period. The amount of linoleic acid decreases with high temperatures at maturity. It is grown throughout the year in peninsular India, but largely confined to spring season in north-west plains zone (Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh).
Sunflowers are phototropic and before the flowers are open (bud stage), the buds will turn to and follow the sun. Once the flowers are open, the heads stay pointed toward the east. Sunflowers have moderate tolerance to moisture deficits.
Sunflower grows well in deep, neutral and well drained light as well as heavy soils, within pH range of 6.5-8.0. Acid and saline soils are not suited to the crop. It grows well in loamy soil during kharif season and in clay soil during rabi and spring seasons. It performs better than groundnut in heavy black cotton soils of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
4. Geographic Distribution of Sunflower:
Sunflower is cultivated globally on 21.48 m. ha with a production of 26.47 million tonnes. Before World War I (1914-1918), our planet had about 3,200 sq. kilometres of sunflower fields which could produce about a hundred thousand ton of sunflower oil. At present, the quantity of sunflower oil from all over the world is sevenfold.
The figure, however, tends to rise continuously. The countries that are major producers of the sunflower include Russia, Argentina, the combined European Union, China, India, Turkey and South Africa. The former Soviet Union grows the most sunflowers. The sunflower is the national flower of Russia.
Sunflower, being a new oilseed crop in India (introduced in 1969) is mainly grown in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. It is also grown in Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
5. About the Sunflower Plant:
There are over 50 species of genus Helianthus. Out of which only 2 species, a diploid annual H. annuus (2n=34) and hexaploid perennial H. tubrorus (2n=102) are cultivated. The former is grown as an oilseed crop, while the later as a feed crop for its tubers.
Sunflower is an erect, hairy annual herb, attaining a height of 75 to 150 cm with a strong tap root system. Its leaves are large and are in the heart shape. The cultivated sunflower is characterized by a single stem (unbranched) terminating in a capitulum or head.
Sunflowers are members of the Asteraceae or composite family, and flowers are collected together in a head inflorescence. The genus Helianthus is derived from the Greek heliouas meaning sun and anthos meaning ‘ flower’. A well-known sunflower characteristic is that the flowering heads track the sun’s movement, a phenomenon known as heliotropism.
The flower head tends to follow the movement of the sun from east to the west until majority of flowers are fertilized, in order to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis. Once the flower fully fertilized, it will face east and there will be no movement anymore.
The daily orientation of the flower to the sun is a direct result of differential growth of the stem. A plant-growth regulator, or auxin, accumulates on the shaded side of a plant when conditions of unequal light prevail. Because of this accumulation, the darker side grows faster than the sunlit side. Thus, the stem bends toward the sun. This movement is the reason for plant’s common name sunflower.
Normally each cultivated sunflower plant has only one flower, but the wild species have multiple flowers. The flower has yellow or reddish-yellow petals around a brown disc. Sunflower is protrandous, in which the male and female elements mature at different times. In each disc, there are several hundred to a thousand florets that are hermaphrodite.
There are two types of flowers:
(i) Colourful ray flowers without stamens and pistils surrounding the perimeter of the head, and
(ii) Disk flowers with male and female parts but without petals that compose the interior of the head. It is highly cross-pollinated crop.
Pollination is achieved entirely by bees or other pollinating insects. Its fruits or seeds are various in colour-pure black, black with gray or white stripes and white with gray stripes depending on the species.
Fruit is an achene which consists of seed or kernel and adhering pericarp called the hull. Maturity starts from the periphery to the centre. It is a C3 plant and has high photo-respiration. Sunflower being a photo and thermo insensitive could be grown throughout the year in India.
6. Field Preparation of Sunflower:
Sunflower requires well pulverized (loose and friable soils) and weed-free land with adequate moisture for the germination of the seed. The first ploughing should be done by mould-board plough followed by 2-3 ploughings or harrowings with planking.
There should be sufficient moisture at the time of sowing for proper germination, as its seed has thick hulls and imbibes water at a slow rate. Application of malathion 4% @ 25-30 kg/ha mixed with the soil at the time of last ploughing is essential in areas infested with termites or white grubs.
7. Sowing Time of Sunflower:
Farmers need to give very careful consideration to the time of sowing and based on which hybrids of right duration are to be selected. Predominantly, the farmers in Rayalseema, Marathwada and Karnataka traditionally either keep the land fallow or take up pulses or green manure crop with the start of the first rains and then take up sunflower starting from August to mid of October.
Farmers in southern peninsula have realised higher yields by sowing the crop during these months. Longer duration hybrids (>95 days) are to be sown in the early season while medium-short duration hybrids (85-95 days) give better results.
Sunflower, unlike most other crops, is not affected with the season and day length because it is a photo-insensitive crop. With the exception of freezing temperatures, the sowing of sunflower can be done in any month of the year. However, experimental results have shown that the optimum time of sowing of sunflower in the north of Kharif, Rabi and Zaid crops is the first fortnight of July, second fortnight of October and the first fortnight of March, respectively.
Sowing sunflower earlier to later than these periods is disadvantageous to this crop. If Kharif crop of sunflower is sown in June, it suffers from lodging, as heading stage coincides with the heavy rain period of early September.
The Rabi crop sown late in December or January does not make proper germination and growth and heads of smaller size are produced. Similarly Zaid crop sown late in April suffers from heavy rains at harvest time which hampers proper harvesting and threshing of the produce.
Sowing time should be decided in such a way that the flowering and seed-filling stages of the crop do not coincide with continuous rains or high temperatures, above 38°C. Higher yields are obtained during early summer and rabi than kharif season, because of low biotic stress and favourable soil moisture conditions.
In rabi, the suitable sowing time is between second fortnight of September and first fortnight of October. Summer crop can be sown in January through first week of February. Normally sunflower takes about 80-90 days to mature in kharif, 105-130 days in rabi and 100-110 days in spring season.
Dibbling method of sowing requires 5-6 kg/ha seed. A crop sown by placing seeds in furrows opened by plough needs 8-10 kg/ha seeds. After 10-12 days of germination, extra seedlings should be uprooted to provide a space of 20 cm between plants in rows.
Under dryland conditions, pre-soaking of seeds in water for 12 hours and subsequent drying in shade has been recommended. The seed before sowing should be treated with thiram or mancozeb 75 W P. @ 3 g/kg seed. Bold and certified seed should be used for sowing. In downy mildew prone areas, seed treatment with apron 35 SD @ 6 g/kg seed is necessary.
Seed Dormancy and Viability:
Sunflower seeds have a dormancy period of 10-50 days. The germination inhibitors are present in seed kernel and seed coat is active up to 10 and 45 days after harvesting respectively. Thus the dehusked seeds can be germinated from 10th day after harvest up to 75%.
Method of Breaking Dormancy:
Exogenous application of ethrel, benzyl adenine and GA 3 promotes germination of dormant achenes (intact seeds). Pre-soaking of dormant seeds with ethrel solution (25 ppm) equivalent to 40% by volume of seeds was found to be optimum, and is the most effective chemical.
Seeds can be soaked for 6 hours and then dried in shade or can be sown directly. If the quantity of seeds is small, they should be soaked for 24 hours in ethrel solution and then sow in prepared field. This treatment gives germination to the extent of 85% or more.
Viability of Seeds:
Normally sunflower seeds remain viable for 10-12 months. However, in areas of hot humid weather seeds lose viability quickly. At 50 to 85% relative humidity, seeds lose viability within 40-60 days. Pre-soaking seed with water or protein (10-5 M concentration) before storing increased the viability period even under high humidity conditions. Short term seed hardening treatment given to 6 months old seeds resulted in extending viability up to 10 months.
Methods of Sowing and Spacing:
The sowing can be done by corn planter in the furrows. A spacing of 60 cm x 30 cm for tall and 45 cm x 30 cm for dwarf varieties is optimum. However, closer spacing of 45 cm x 30 cm was recommended even for taller varieties, where moisture was not limiting. The seed should be sown at a proper depth (5-7 cm) so that it remains in contact with the subsoil moisture during germination.
The optimum population varies from 40,000-74,000 plants/ha depending on variety to be grown and availability of moisture in the soil. Under dryland conditions, 40,000- 50,000 plants/ha, while under irrigated conditions 50,000-60,000 plants/ha is the optimum plant density.
A plant density of 55,556 plants/ha (60 cm x 30 cm) in tall cultivars and 74,000 plants/ha (45 cm x 30 cm) in dwarf cultivars/hybrids has been found optimum for adequate plant population and higher yields.
8. Manure and Fertilizers Required for Sunflower:
Sunflower is a fast growing and high oil-yielding crop and thus it is expected to take more nutrients. Therefore, it is considered as an exhaustive crop and responds well to manures and fertilizers. A crop of sunflower yielding 1.4 tonnes seed/ha removes about 175 kg N, 65 kg P2O5 and 225 kg K2O/ha. Thus, better yields of sunflower can only be realised by applying recommended dosage of fertilisers.
Particularly, an application of phosphorous, potash and other nutrients like sulphur and boron are of great importance. These nutrients, apart from improving plant health and increasing grain yields, also help in improving grain weight and oil content.
Therefore, it is necessary to apply adequate quantity of manure and fertilizers as per the soil test results. Application of 10-12 tonnes of FYM or compost/ha is necessary especially in drylands and poorly fertile soils.
A dose of 60-80 kg N, 60-75 kg P2O5 and 40 kg K2O/ha is recommended for tall and long duration varieties/hybrids grown under irrigation. Under rainfed conditions, and short duration varieties, a dose of 30-40 kg N, 40-50 kg P2O5 and 30-40 kg K2O/ha should be applied.
Split application of N (2/3 at sowing and 1/3 as top dressing 25 days after sowing) is beneficial. In light soils, 3 splits (50% basal + 25% at button stage + 25% at flowering) may be desirable. The top dressing of N should be done immediately after irrigation or based on moisture availability in drylands.
All P and K fertilizers are applied as basal, 5 cm away in band on both sides of seed line. In acidic soils, liming is essential to overcome calcium deficiency. In soils medium to low in available sulphur, sunflower responds well to sulphur fertilization, thus in such soils or in intensive cropping system, crop should be applied with 20-30 kg S/ha for high seed and oil yields. Application of 2 kg borax/ha or spraying borax (0.2 % i.e. 2 g/l of water) directly to capitulum at ray-floret opening stage increases seed filling, yield and oil content.
9. Water Management of Sunflower:
Usually no irrigation is needed for kharif crop. However, 1 irrigation should be given in case of uneven distribution of rainfall. Rabi crop may be irrigated thrice after 40, 75 and 110 days of sowing. Sunflower crop is highly sensitive to water stress between flowering and grain filling stages. Therefore, one irrigation may be provided in case of moisture deficiency during this stage.
Irrigation requirement of crop during zaid (summer) is relatively higher. It requires 4-8 irrigations at an interval of 10-15 days. Irrigation at grain-filling stage should be light and given on calm and windless evening to avoid lodging.
Among the various stages, bud initiation (35-40 DAS), flower opening (55-65 DAS) and seed filling (65-80 DAS) are critical stages in terms of irrigation. Irrigation should be provided at an interval of 8-10 days in light textured soils and 15-25 days in heavy textured soils.
10. Weed Management of Sunflower:
The crop suffers due to severe weed competition during initial 45 days of growth. The crop should be kept weed free during this period to obtain higher yields. The major weed flora includes Cynodon dactylon, Cyperus rotundus, Echinochloa (Grasses), Achyranthus aspera, Phyllanthus niruri, Cynotis sp., Celosia argentina, Portulaca oleracea, Parthenium hysterophorus etc. Two hand weedings and 2 inter-cultivations with hoeing 20-25 days and the other 30-35 days after sowing are quite effective.
Pre-emergence application of pendimethalin @ 1.00 kg/ha is also effective. Pre-emergence use of 1.5-2.0 kg/ha of nitrofen or 0.75-1.0 kg/ha prometryne also successfully control the weeds. However, alachlor @ 1.5 kg/ha was more economical. The crop and its residues have allelopathic effect on weeds due to secretion of chlorogenic acids, scopolin etc.
Since sunflower is self-incompatible and depends on insects, mainly bees for pollination and seed-set, it must be ensured that adequate pollinators are present in field for pollen movement and seed-set. Lack of adequate pollinators results in ‘chaffy’ and partially filled seeds, causing reduced yield. Keeping beehives in the field is therefore necessary.
Whenever, bee activity is low, resort to supplemental hand pollination on alternate days preferably in the morning hour between 8 and 11 AM for about two weeks. Hand pollination can be done by covering the hands with muslin cloth and gently rubbing the heads with palm and also touching the neighbouring plants.
Maintaining 5 bee-hives/ha provides optimum requirement of pollination, besides yielding valuable honey. Do not resort to insecticidal spray during flowering period as it affects the visit of honeybees.
Parakeet (Psittacula krameri):
Symptoms of Damage:
The bird damage starts from the milky stage and continues till harvest. Birds consume on an average 152 seeds/day.
Establish scare crows in the field to distract the birds. Bursting of crackers and carbide guns and tying polythene bags. Use bird scaring tape (reflective ribbon or bird scaring ribbon). Using bio-acoustic method like pre-recorded distress calls to distract the birds. Destruction of bird nest in and around the field. Deploy two labourers per hectare to scare away the birds. Prune the perching and breeding places. Spraying of neem kernal powder solution at 10 g/litre of water after seed shedding repels the birds. Use bird proof nets.
11. Cropping Systems of Sunflower:
Sunflower is grown mostly as a rainfed crop in India. Proper crop rotation with legumes and other cereal/vegetable crops also helps in conserving soil nutrients and lower incidence of pests and diseases on Sunflower. It is not season bound crop and its short growing period of 90-125 days makes it an ideal catch crop. Sunflower is raised in rotation with several crops. However, raising sunflower after sunflower should be discouraged because of buildup of inoculum of diseases pests.
Some of the important crop rotations includes Pigeonpea (early)-sunflower, Maize-sunflower, Maize-potato-sunflower, Rice-sunflower, Maize-toria- sunflower Ratoon sugarcane-sunflower. Sunflower-safflower, etc. Mixed or intercropping system would greatly help the farmers with assured returns.
12. Harvesting and Threshing of Sunflower:
Physiological maturity in sunflower is attained when the back of flower head (capitulum) turned brown or lemon-yellow colour and the colour of the seeds turn to darker. When seed turns to darker in colour, its coat also becomes hard and seed is easily removed from capitulum.
The sunflower crop is ready for harvest when the moisture content in the seeds reaches to 20 percent. All heads may not be ready for harvesting at one time. Harvesting may, therefore, be done in 2 or 3 times to avoid shattering. The mature heads are cut with the help of sickles.
The harvested head should be dried well in sun for 4-5 days and then threshed by beating the center of the head with a wooden or bamboo stick to separate out the grains. The commercial crop may be threshed with available threshers by reducing their speed.
The plants should be removed from the field and are used as fuel. After threshing, winnowing is done to get clean seed. Further, sun-drying of the seed is desirable before storage or oil extraction. Moisture in seed should not exceed 10% before storage.
13. Yields and Decorticating of Sunflower:
The productivity of sunflower varies from region to region, season to season, varieties/ hybrids and levels of agronomic management. By adopting recommended package of agronomic practices in rainfed areas, an average yield ranges from 0.8-1.0 q/ha and in assured rainfall areas from 1.0-1.5 t/ha and in irrigated areas from 2.0-2.5 t/ha depending upon the agro- climatic conditions. The sunflower seed generally contains 30 % hull.
The cleaned sunflower seeds need to be shelled for further processing. The shelling or decorticating is the process of removal of outer husk. Normally this process is done by the principle of impacting the seeds with a harder surface. A sunflower seed shelter is now available. The graded seeds are fed into hopper by means of a bucket elevator and then into the rotor.
The force due to the rapid movement of seeds shelled the sunflower. The shelled materials are winnowed to separate the lighter husk and foreign material from the seeds. Since shell contain mainly cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin and removal of these materials increased the oil content by 20% in seeds. After shelling and cleaning, seeds are ready for extraction of oil.