Until stepping foot into North Dakota, I would have never imaged North Dakota to be a national leader when it comes to production of many different crops. It’s safe to say I have never before witnessed fields of crops that are seemingly endless. But let me tell you, there is something magical about coming across a field of blooming yellow sunflowers as far as the eye can see. It literally makes you stop in your tracks and takes your breath away. It makes me stop and realize how blessed I am to be calling this beautiful place home now. And even more so, that I am able to wander in the sunflowers with my farmer while he checks them.
It’s hard to tell by the photo but most of these sunflowers are well over my head. They were planted in the first part of June and if you’ve been following, when I visited in July right around the 4th of July, they looked like this…
Things I learned from walking in a field of sunflowers.. You will get pollen EVERYWHERE, as you can tell by some of the photos. AND the heads are in fact quite sticky in the middle. So don’t touch unless you want sticky fingers.
My farmer also taught me how to tell when the flowers have been pollinated. Below all that fuzz in middle of the head, there are seeds underneath. But in order for those seeds to mature, they need to be pollinated. These sunflowers have just begun pollination and you can tell by that outer ring in the middle of the head. Once they have finished pollinating, the center will be completely filled in. However, sometimes the flowers won’t even reach full pollination. Environmental factors can inhibit them from fully pollinating such as stress from weather.
The seeds underneath begin white and turn black once they have been pollinated. See in the photo above how they are black? Those parts of the sunflowers have been successfully pollinated. Bees are responsible for the pollination of these fields. Farmers contract bee hives to be set near fields and the bees go to work. Because of the symbiosis between the bees and the sunflowers here, North Dakota ranks number one in the nation’s productions for both sunflowers AND honey! With the state producing 24% of the nation’s honey and 43% of the nation’s sunflowers! North Dakota is also a leader in the production of spring wheat, durum, barley, flaxseed, and canola! Who would have thought North Dakota was such a leader in agriculture!?
Once the seeds from these beautiful fields are harvested, they will be used for primarily three different markets: oil production (oils), de-hulls, and confection varieties. Sunflower oil is the primary use and has a variety of difference usages including fuel! De-hulls (or de-shelled) are basically like what you would buy in the store to put on your salads or simply enjoy them without having to fight with a shell, and confections are roasted in the shell and a lot of times flavored for you to enjoy at your favorite baseball game or whenever!
So the next time you enjoy sunflower seeds, wherever you are, think of a North Dakota farmer. Think about them putting in days that are much longer than your average 9-5 in order to get these seeds planted as well as harvested. Think about them for relying on the grace of Mother Nature to give them enough water for these plants to grow as well as for these farmers to make a living. Think of all the hard work, stress, sweat, and tears that have been shed over these crops so you can go to the store and buy a bag of sunflower seeds to enjoy! And most importantly, think of this farmer…