How to grow and Reap Big from Sunflower
Sunflower is mostly grown in western and northern Uganda. It is not a perennial crop so once you harvest the crops, you will wait for another season.
These seasons are specifically when there are rains, that is, March to May and October to November in the areas where it is grown.
How it is grown
Micheal Lolang, a farmer who grows sunflower and also a village savings loan adviser in Kiryandongo District, explains how to grow the crop.
You have to clear the land about a month prior to planting. You may use an ox plough the first time. After one week, you plough again when you have the seeds for planting. Then wait for the rains to start.
Mark straight lines between the planting holes. It is advisable to do this with strings to measure the spacing of 35 by 70 centimetres then plant the seeds in the holes.
Note that it is not good to have more than three in one hole.
Cover them lightly and wait until germination.
When the plant is one feet (0.3 metres) from the ground, carry out the first weeding. When it is a metre up (about 3.28 feet), do the second weeding and there is no more work needed. When it is a metre tall, it begins folding the top getting ready to produce the drain stalk.
However, Lolang points out that manpower will be needed to harvest because there is no specific machine which can be use to make the work easier.
The other tasks involve removing the seeds from the comb and putting them under the sun to dry.
It takes four to five days to dry and that is when the produce is ready to be taken to the market.
The whole process, from planting to harvesting, takes approximately 90 days.
After harvesting sunflower, the farmers prefer to plant maize on the particular land because they can get better yield of maize out of it.
There are economic benefits from sunflower apart from seeds.
After extracting the oil, what remains is used as animal feed for especially cattle and pigs because it has good nutritive value.
Input in one acre
Using an acre as a standard, it would require two kilos of seeds. Thus, for two acres, it would be four kilogrammes of sunflower seed for each acre. Each kilogramme costs Shs85,000.
The yield from each acre ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 kilogrammes.
At farm gate, the current buying price for sunflower is Shs1,300 per kilogramme. Therefore, the earnings would range from Shs1.3m to Shs1.95m, which can be averaged at Shs1.62m per acre.
However, there have been appeals from farmers for the companies to lift the buying price to Shs1,500-Shs1,800. This is to enable the farmers meet the cost because the seeds are expensive compared to the selling price.
On the other hand, the sunflower buying companies argue when exporting sunflower products, there are taxes imposed on them. So, the current prices help cover the costs.
One of the challenges is yield gaps as Celina Gwo, a sunflower farmer, explains: “Sometimes we produce little compared to what we expect and this affects us.”
There is also the quality of the seed. She adds, “Some suppliers sell fake seeds which sometimes affect our production.”
Noteworthy is the menace of birds when sunflower start to bring forth seed.
“There is need for manpower to scare away birds. Sometimes we use strings we tie across the garden such that when the wind blows, the sound scares away birds or our children stay in the garden to do this when it is not school time,” Gwo states.
In addition to birds, butterflies and other pests which exploit the flowering seed, there are fungal diseases which affect the grains when the leaves are folded before producing the comb.
Getting the oil
Sunflower oil can be extracted using chemical solvents (for example, hexane), or expeller pressing (that is, squeezed directly from sunflower seeds by crushing them).
“Cold-pressing”/expeller-pressing sunflower seed oil under low-temperature conditions is a preferred method, for those seeking an extraction process that does not involve chemical solvents, as well as for people following a raw foods diet.
Good for soil
It is called sun flower because when the comb comes out it always face where the sun rises.
It is a nitrogen fixing plant because after harvesting the remains from the comb are taken back in the garden to work as fertilisers in the soil.
What farmers should do after harvesting sunflower:
Use what is left over in the field as green manure in the space that was used for sunflower for the next planting season.
You can prepare the land for maize because it tends to yield better due to the nitrogen fixing attributes of sunflower.
The crop is seasonal, so there is need to prepare the land early because it needs a lot of rain.
Local seeds are not advisable to be planted again they do not produce good yield.
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