Too much rain? Plant sunflowers

Larry Limpf

A decision two years ago by Steve Turnow to add sunflowers to his rotation of organic crops appears to be almost prescient.
“It worked out well. This spring was exceptionally wet but sunflowers are a shorter season crop,” Turnow said. “I could plant later and still have a decent crop. Unlike corn, everybody quit planting corn around the first of June and quit planting soybeans around the first of July. I planted sunflowers up to July 15. Farmers have to adapt to the weather conditions.”
Last year, he planted 20 acres of sunflowers; this year about 300 acres, including a field of 100 acres owned by Hirzel Farms, Northwood. So far, the crop looks good but Turnow says it’s too early to estimate what the yield will be.
Turnow Ventures Ltd. became certified by the Global Organic Alliance, Inc. in 1998 and has fields in the Curtice, Elliston/Graytown and Lindsey areas. The GOA is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a certifying agent.
“Our first exposure to organic came because we had an interest in organic alfalfa pellets. A chicken feeder on the East Coast called Country Hen was interested in buying organic alfalfa meal to feed to their organic chickens so there would be organic eggs with a nice yellow yolk. That’s what the organic alfalfa does in the feed ration, it gives the nice yellow color to the yolk of the organic egg,” Turnow said. “Once your fields are certified as organic you want a good rotation. So when the alfalfa field is no longer viable for alfalfa you have to rotate. It was a natural fit to go into other crops. Toledo Alfalfa Mills, Inc. which is also a certified organic company, processes the alfalfa into pellets.”
Black beans, yellow corn, red winter wheat and soybeans have also been in the rotation. Squash and sunflowers are recent additions to the mix and Turnow is already looking to add another.
“We’re planning on planting some canola this year. The planting is similar to that of wheat – plant in September and harvest in July. That will also be for an oil seed. It’s similar to sunflowers, it will go to canola oil,” he said.
The processor for Turnow’s sunflower crop is AgStrong, a Georgia company that uses a cold expeller press method for removing the oil from the sunflower seeds.
“They don’t use heat and they don’t use additives. It’s a better product because you don’t lose anything as you do during the heating process,” Turnow said, adding consumers may be indirectly buying his product at the local grocery store. “AgStrong has a contract to sell to General Mills, which owns Annie’s and makes organic food like macaroni and cheese, cookies and other products.”
The fields of sunflowers have drawn compliments from passersby, many of whom have stopped to take photos.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the response of the communities to the beauty of the sunflowers,” he said.
Turnow was a presenter at the annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association held in February in Dayton where he spoke at a workshop: “Crop Rotation for Resilient Organic Grain Management.”
A family operation, Turnow Ventures is also staffed by Turnow’s wife, Nancy, who is listed on the company website as chief advisor; Craig Turnow, equipment expert; Tiffany Hernandez, advertising and public relations; Analisa Turnow, organic inspector and data collector; Morgan Turnow, operations chemist; Jason Nissen, daily operations, and Steve Kramer, grounds crew.


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