Producers look for the benefits in growing safflower in eastern WyomingWritten by Saige Albert
Randall notes that most of the increase has been seen in confectionary sunflowers in the Powell area, but he says producers have also begun producing other oilseed crops such as safflower.
“Safflower isn’t a new crop in Wyoming,” says Albin producer Theron Anderson. “It just hasn’t been used much for a long time.”
Reemerging in Wyoming
Anderson says he decided to pursue growing safflower again for the first time this year, though he remembers his father planting the crop when he was a child.
“I was looking for a rotational crop to use instead of sunflowers, so we thought we’d give it a shot,” says Anderson. “It’s all new to me.”
Anderson notes that he is using safflower in a no-till system, but he’s seen others raise the crop in a conventional fallow system.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes,” he adds.
Why grow safflower?
“Most farmers are using a summer fallow, and that summer fallow costs them money,” says Ray Templeton, president of Dreamland Industries, Ltd., which contracts for safflower. “Planting safflower will allow farmers to produce a crop and allow them to be productive during that period.”
Templeton adds that research shows summer fallow uses as much water, if not more water, than growing a spring crop, and the practice is “not the way to go.”
“Farmers want to take advantage of the water that is available so it’s not just going back into the atmosphere,” he says. “Safflower allows growers to get a third crop into their rotation. If it is harvested early enough, farmers can plant winter wheat right after, which is a big benefit.”
Anderson marks the earlier maturation of the crop as a reason he decided to plant safflower, saying, “The fact that safflower matures earlier than sunflowers means there is a chance of planting wheat in the fall after it.”
Safflower also has soil benefits, according to Templeton, who says the crop mellows the soil.
“No-till farmers, in particular, are always looking for ways to better condition their soil, and safflower helps them do that,” he explains. “It mellows out the soil and improves soil health.”
Larry Pahl, a safflower grower from the Kimball, Neb. area, says he hopes to gain soil benefits from the taproot system of the crop.
“It has a taproot system that will go down and loosen the soil,” he explains. “If it goes deep enough, hopefully that will bring some of the nitrogen in the lower levels of the soil and recycle that up for crops that follow it.”
By making more nitrogen available to crops planted following the safflower, Pahl hopes to see continued benefits, even when the crop isn’t in the ground.
“Plus, what it appears to be doing to the soil texture is favorable,” he mentions.
Templeton also remarks that safflower stubble helps catch snow and slows wind erosion, as well.
Randall notes that safflower also provides opportunities as far as weed management is concerned, because it is a broadleaf.
“It has some excellent opportunities to use some different chemicals to get rid of those species that belong to the grain family,” explains Randall. “I think that will help quite a bit.”
Though Pahl mentions that establishing a herbicide program has proved challenging, the crop could provide an alternative broadleaf crop.
“I would recommend that those who are in dryland situations looking for an alternative broadleaf crop that has a pretty good market value to consider and try it on a small scale,” Pahl comments, cautioning producers to not put all their eggs in one basket, and to see if it works before going large scale. “It’s important to understand the system we are using it in is a no-till continuous crop system, not a summer fallow.”
Pahl also notes that the market is relatively small, saying, “Safflower isn’t something you can take to your local elevator and sell.”
“We used to grow safflower in the ‘60s, and I’m always looking for an alternative crop to put into our crop operations,” explains Pahl. “Safflower appears to be suited – both moisture-wise and growing season-wise – to our area.”
What is safflower?
Safflower is crop marketed mainly as a specialty oilseed and for birdseed, according to a Wyoming Business Council Report. The crop is a hardy, dryland crop grown largely in California, Montana and across the Northern Plains. Wyoming currently has safflower producers in both the northeast and southeast areas of the state.
“Safflower is primarily used for a very high-end vegetable cooking oil,” explains Ray Templeton, president of Dreamland Industries, Ltd. “It has real health benefits, as well.”
Templeton mentions that safflower oil can help reduce cholesterol, and is a very clean-tasting oil.
Larry Pahl, a safflower grower from Kimball, Neb., adds that safflower oil is used for biodiesel and is highly sought after in the cosmetic industry for oil-based cosmetics, as well.