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Let's talk about sunflowers

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MEDORA -- Sunflowers remain a shining spot for North Dakota agriculture.

But as the average age of farmers today reaches 57 years old, it is more important than ever to keep the industry's younger producers engaged and tap into their thoughts and concerns, which the National Sunflower Association did during a panel discussion with young sunflower producers at last week's NSA annual Sunflower Summer Seminar at the Medora Community Center.

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"I hope, through open dialogue like this, in the end, we will have a better conversation that will make the industry work better," said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association.

How sunflowers made it into the rotation on Kevin Capistran's Crookston, Minn., farm is simple: It just fits.

"It was ingrained in me as a kid to grow sunflowers," said Capistran, who serves as the NSA's board president and also grows sugar beets and wheat, in addition to sunflowers. "A lot of times people question why anyone would grow sunflowers when corn in king and sunflowers are labor-intensive. Sunflower fits in with what I'm doing and the rest of the rotation."

Out of high school 20 years, Shannon Depoy has farmed full-time since 1993 in Lantry, S.D., growing spring wheat, winter wheat and corn, before sunflowers were introduced into his crop rotation.

"I like to follow North Dakota and what sunflower producers here are doing," he said. "I always want to be on the cutting edge and I am not afraid to try something that works somewhere else. I've learned that you can't be afraid to try in this business, as well as be flexible."

When looking to stay on top of the latest ag news, Shannon, unlike his father and grandfather, turns to technology.

"I don't watch a lot of news on TV, but very morning I roll over and grab the iPad to look at the farm futures. I have an iPad that I also carry out in the tractor with me, so I can go to a company's website and pull off information about seeds. I subscribe to a couple of farm magazines too."

The first read of the day for Capistran during the summer is the weather forecast, not the markets.

"I try not to look at the markets too much because I think sometimes I over look at them," he said.

Market over-saturation is something producers should be careful to avoid, Sandbakken said.

"You can easily get bombarded these days by too much information if you're not careful," he said.

Lance Hourigan has farmed full-time for about five years with his father near Lemmon, S.D., said he earned an advertising degree before his family persuaded him to come home and farm.

While he doesn't have an ag degree, Hourigan said he has learned a great deal from other farmers.

But with an aging population of producers, how will the industry keep the younger producers engaged in flower production?

"It helps if people realize that it isn't as much work today as people think it is," Hourigan said. "On a lot of farms, the fathers and grandfathers always worked harder. I think the prices are probably fine, but it's the time involved with sunflower production that holds many people back from growing them."

Clint Patterson, a Bottineau farmer, said it's important to note that, while sunflowers can be time-consuming to grow, they have some perks.

"I guess where I come from, (sunflower) is a later-in-the-season crop, and I would rather combine sunflowers in November than immature corn," he said.

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