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Companion Cropping Boosts No-Till Profits, Soil Health

Growing double-crop sunflowers with multiple species has reduced inputs and enhanced primary crop health for Kansas no-tillers Robin and Kelly Griffeth.

Double crop sunflowers planted with companion crops have a triple payoff for Jewell, Kan., no-tillers Robin and Kelly Griffeth.

With 2 years of companion cropping under their belts, the Griffeths are harvesting a more profitable sunflower crop, improving their soil and benefitting the subsequent crop in the rotation.

The north-central Kansas farmers follow their hard red winter wheat crop with sunflowers intermixed with as many as nine different companion species, each selected for specific attributes.

Continuous no-tillers since 1995, Robin and his son, Kelly, operate 3,700 acres as they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, grain sorghum and sunflowers. They were already believers in cover crops when an unplanned “experiment” revealed companion-crop potential.

“It was a fluke, really,” Robin says. “I was planting a field of buckwheat in July 2011. I had about 4 acres left and not enough seed to finish. I hate blank spots, so I mixed up some leftover sunflower seed, winter peas, five different clovers, canola, chickling vetch, safflower and a couple of different radishes — just to bulk up the volume enough to finish.”

To their surprise, the sunflowers in the companion mix yielded well, without insecticide, herbicide or additional fertilizer.

“We learned a lot by watching that 4-acre patch and decided this was something we needed to research a little further,” he says.

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Designer Seed Mix

Kelly came up with a companion mix for the following year — common vetch, chickling vetch, spring forage peas, winter peas, cowpeas, crimson clover, oilseed radishes, purple-top turnips, buckwheat and…

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Mark Parker

Contributing Editor

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