Safflower researchers boost yields with dormant seeding
By John O’Connell
LOGAN, Utah — Crop researchers at Utah State University have found by planting dryland safflower in the early winter, called dormant seeding, they can boost yields by more than 20 percent with minimal risk of winter kill.
Southern Idaho dryland safflower growers have followed the research, in its sixth year, closely and hope to implement the planting approach once researchers devise better methods for controlling weeds without spring tillage.
Regardless of the weed problem, growers in Northern Utah, ranging from Tremonton to Snowville, are raising about 1,000 acres of dormant-seeded safflower this season, representing their first large-scale crop planted in early winter rather than at the usual spring timing.
Dormant-seeded safflower has averaged 150 pounds per acre better than spring safflower in USU’s trials.
“This year, it seems like we’ve got more and more growers thinking this is a pretty good option right now,” said Mike Pace, a USU Extension educator for Box Edler County.
Pace and Clark Israelsen, a USU Extension educator for Cache County, initially intended to test fall-planted safflower in their growing area. They stumbled upon planting in late November and December when they received insufficient moisture for fall planting in their first two seasons.
Israelsen explained dormant-seeded safflower doesn’t sprout prior to the arrival of cold weather, which minimizes winter kill, but gets an earlier start to growing than spring-planted safflower.
“We can benefit from that early spring moisture. Well before it gets really dry, the roots are down in the moisture,” Israelsen said.
Israelsen said some winter kill still occurs, resulting in somewhat thinner stands than in spring safflower, but dormant-seeded plants branch out more, producing far more seed heads per plant. The researchers started the trials with Montana fall safflower varieties but discovered the most common Southern Idaho and Northern Utah varieties — S-208 and S-333 — yielded better, even in dormant seeding.
Once again, dormant-seeded safflower appears to be ahead of spring safflower this season.
For next season’s trials, the researchers plan to test the use of the pre-emergence herbicides Sonalan and Spartan 4F in dormant-seeded safflower. Pace explained in spring safflower, weed control has been excellent with the combination of tillage and Sonalan, but with dormant seeding there’s no chance to till early spring weeds that Sonalan can’t control.
Scott Fuhriman, a Malad, Idaho, dryland farmer and a member of the Idaho Grain Producers Association board, has conducted his own dormant seeding trials for the past four years and has also experienced yield gains in excess of 20 percent. But he’s hesitant to try dormant seeding on a commercial scale.
“The concern is the weeds,” Fuhriman said, adding new chemicals may make the practice more feasible.
Bill Meadows, owner of Mountain States Oilseeds in American Falls, has provided partial funding for the USU research. He believes growers can improve weed control in dormant seeding by planting safflower in rows, enabling them to cultivate in the gaps, and using herbicide. He acknowledges the extra field work would eat into profits from the yield gain.
In trials, Israelsen said USU had “respectable” weed control in dormant-seeded safflower planted in rows ranging from a foot to 30 inches apart.