The Value of Sunflowers


September 6, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn (RFD-TV) Bright yellow sunflowers are known for their beauty, but these plants also have agricultural value. Researchers with University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture are growing experimental sunflowers, and believe this specialty crop has potential for thousands of producers.

Charles Denney has more on what could be the prettiest field on the farm.

Denny begins, “A sea of yellow and green, some chest and even head high. It just might be agriculture’s prettiest crop – the tall, bright sunflower. But this is no mass garden. Instead, it’s an experiment in its peak season – a few acres grown at the UT AgResearch Center in Milan.”

Dr. Blake Brown, professor at the North Carolina State University Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, and an economist with NCSU’s Cooperative Extension, also gives his input.

“Some of our researchers have done some work with some sunflowers. We’ve actually done a little bit of variety testing in recent years, raising the question: Is there a possibility to make sunflowers a viable crop for Tennessee? And there’s some interest there.”

Tennessee may never catch upper Midwestern states like North Dakota, where sunflowers are a major agricultural crop.

Denney says, “There you’ll find huge fields, grown for the black seed oil and even seed for bird food.”

Sunflowers require delicate harvesting. Collecting the precious seed is tricky, and like all crops, there are issues with pests and diseases. But sunflowers can be farmed successfully.

Denney continues, “Tennessee’s climate seems to work well for sunflowers. Like the name says, they like sunshine and hot weather. They also grow rapidly. These sunflowers went from seed to several feet in just a couple of months.”

Research Associate I for the West Tennessee Research & Education Center, Jason Reeves, shares his thoughts.

“Gardeners and children alike are attracted to sunflowers because they’re easy to grow from seed to three, four, five foot tall plant in just a short amount of time. But a big, beautiful flower that’s really showy and fun to be around.”

It’s doubtful sunflowers will ever be a major crop for Tennessee Ag. But should farmers choose to go this route, they may find some success.

And at the very least, watching the crop grow will be a pleasant experience.

Concluding, Denney highlights an interesting Sunflower fact that contributes to their intellectual beauty.

“Sunflowers physically moving slightly to face the sun is no agricultural urban legend. UT experts say the flowers do this naturally to maximize photosynthesis. This movement is called heliotropism, and sunflowers are just one of many plant varieties that do this.”