SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ – Who wouldn’t be attracted to the sunflower, what with its big flower head with bright yellow florets and its mystical trait of facing the sun?
At the techno-demo farm at the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) here, hundreds of visitors and students bask in the beauty of the sunflower blooms as they pose for their photos along with the attractive flower.
But the CLSU expert on sunflower growing and production explains that the real beauty of the sunflower is in the economic benefits that it brings to its growers.
“From the seed of the oil-type, we can extract high quality edible oil with pleasant flavor and physiologically valuable components such as linoletic acid, vitamins and phosphatide,” said Prof. Mario Agustin, leader of the CLSU sunflower culture at the techno-demo farm here.
He added its edible oil content has values ranging from 34-48 percent and its protein at 18-25 percent.
“It can also be a source of renewable, ecofriendly biodiesel,” he added.
Agustin said the sunflower meal after the oil extraction can be processed into sunflower flour and as major source of protein in the formulation of feeds for livestock and poultry.
“Its seeds can be processed into seed snack, like the butong-pakwan (from watermelon). For industrial uses, it can be used as source of fiber in the production of paper and for its by-products into organic fertilizer- making,” he said. “The leaves of the plant can also be used as forage for animals,” he added.
The raw sunflower seed is sold in agricultural store, at P 50-P60 per kilogram, for bird seed and as conditioner for fighting cocks.
Breakthrough in R&D
In the early 70s, the CLSU research and development center then headed by Dr. Filomena Campus who was once bestowed the “Women of the World” award, started the research project on sunflower production and breeding with support from the National Science and Development Board (NSDB). The project was meant to develop a package of technology for the culture and production of sunflower suited under Philippine conditions.
“We eventually scored a breakthrough in sunflower research and development,” Agustin, who became a study leader of the project starting in 1977, said.
Among the signifcant achievements in that research project were the development of three promising lines of sunflower, two of which were oil type and the other, confectionary type; the development of a package of technology which can be applied in different potential sunflower growing areas; the invention of a medium scale sunflower seed thresher; the development of a processing technology of sunflower cracked seeds on a cottage industry level; and the creation of awareness among Filipinos of sunflower oil from the standpoint of health and nutrition.
Agustin said several farmers in the different towns and cities of Nueva Ecija engaged in sunflower culture and production using the technology and the seeds produced by CLSU. The varietal lines were named “CLsun”.
Over time, however, the farmers lost interest in sunflower-farming and for many years it was a forgotten enterprise.
“We were tasked recently by our university president to put up a techno-demo farm featuring different crops, including the sunflower. We planted 2,000 seedlings whose seeds were retrieved from our seedbank as a showcase during the summer months,” Agustin said.
He said they used the confectionary type for their demonstration project here. The seeds produced will be processed and made available for planting by interested parties.
Culture and production
The sunflower (Helianthus Annuus) is native to North America but the commercialization of its plant took place in Russia with two million acres by the 19th century. It was the American Indians who domesticated the plant into a single headed plant about 3,000 BC.
In the United States of America, sunflower was planted to five million acres in the late 1970s because of the strong demand for sunflower oil.
The plant grows to a height of between 1.5 and 3.5 meters, with the tallest as confirmed in Germany in 2014 at 7.3 meters. It bears a large flower head (called capitulum) which is about 30 centimeters wide, with bright yellow florets at the outside and yellow or maroon disk florets inside. During its growth, the flower tilts during the day to face the sun, called helitropism, but stops when it blooms and generally faces the east.
Agustin said sunflower is best suited to a welldrained area as the plant is sensitive to water logging. Total plant population is 47,620 per hectare. Seed volume for planting is four to six kilograms per hectare.
For soil that is rich in phosphate (P202) and potash (K20), four bags of urea (N) per hectare should be applied. Five times of irrigation is required – at planting, 15 days after emergence (DAE), 30 DAE, 50 DAE, and 70-80 DAE.
Hilling up is done 2-3 weeks after emergence of the plant. Introduction of bee colonies is recommended during the onset of the blooming to increase seed setting.
Harvesting, when the head turns from green to yellowish brown, is done by cutting the stalk below the head using a scythe. The harvested heads are sundried for 2-3 days to reduce high moisture content.
After threshing, the seeds are sundried to attain moisture content of 8-10 percent.
The average yield, Agustin said, is 2,000 kg of seeds per hectare. He added that it takes about 110 days for the sunflower plant to reach its maturity.
“A net income of at least P45,000 per hectare can be realized in 110 days of sunflower seed production. Double that amount if the seeds are processed into snack seed,” Agustin said.