Sustainable Ongoing Agricultural Research (SOAR) Project Utilizing Sunflowers and Austrian Winter Peas as a Cover Crop to Produce Bio-Diesel Fuel and Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer

Final Report for FNC04-502

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2004: $1,990.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $2,050.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Irwin Porter
Smoky Hills Resource Conservation and Development
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Project Information


In order for agriculture to remain a viable industry it must be sustainable.

The objective of this project is to address two of the major concerns facing farm operators today in coping with the rising costs of variable inputs which are:
1. The cost of fuel to operate motorized farm equipment and
2. The cost of fertilizer related to nutrient management.

By following this system, a farmer will be able to "grow" his/her own fuel supply and to "grow" his/her own organic fertilizer, thereby enhancing one's own farming operation as being economically sustainable.

The primary purpose of this project is to demonstrate the feasibility of planting Austrian Winter Peas in no-till sunflower stubble as a cover crop. Also, the Austrian Winter Peas being a legume may place nitrogen in the soil via their nitrogen fixing bacteria in the root nodules.

A second purpose of the experimental work is to demonstrate the use of sunflower oil as a source of organic fuel to operate a diesel-powered farm tractor.

Our farm will work in cooperation with the Smoky Hills Resource Conservation and Development Council to initiate and develop a sunflower/Austrian Winter Pea cover crop rotation on a 20-acre parcel of leased land. Production from the sunflower crop will be processed by Insta-Pro International, one of our cooperators. We will then use this oil to power a tractor at our field day experience to demonstrate the practicality of using this product as a farm fuel. Austrian Winter Peas will then be planted in the sunflower stubble to "fix" nitrogen for the following crop. Soil samples will be collected before and after the Austrian Winter Pea crop is destroyed to demonstrate the significance of the cover crop, both as a source of nitrogen and as a means to retard wind and water erosion.

Sunflowers were planted in no-till sorghum stubble May 16, 2005 and harvested October 5, 2005 with a yield of 1466 pounds per acre.

Variety – DeKalb
Soil moisture profile at planting time – 5 ½ feet
Organic Matter – 1.6%
Soil pH – 7.3
Nitrate nitrogen – 10 ppm.
Phosphorus – 45 ppm.
Fertilizer applied – 60 pounds 28% UAN, 20 pounds P, 10-34-0

Herbicide – Beyond

Variety – Melrose
Organic matter – 1.56%
Soil pH – 7.3
Nitrate nitrogen ppm. (end of growing season) – 8 ppm.
Phosphorus – 41 ppm.

Oil type sunflowers have proved to be a profitable cash crop for this area of the state.

A good stand was established and the crop progressed well throughout the growing season. There was no lodging or shattering. Based on one year’s observation, having sunflowers in the crop rotation was a good alternative.

It is interesting to note that the soil moisture profile was 5 ½ feet at the beginning of the study in May 2005, and zero feet near the end of the study when the Austrian Winter Peas were planted in October 2005, indicating that sunflowers are quite efficient in utilizing all of the available moisture, not-with-standing the fact that the precipitation during that period totaled 12.6 inches.

The Austrian Winter Peas were planted in dry soil and did not germinate until later in the fall which resulted in a poor stand, but did emerge late in the spring. If one could get the peas seeded by October 1st in moist soil, the chances for a more satisfactory cover crop would be substantially enhanced. The results from this one-year study would indicate that this crop may reveal a satisfactory cover crop for the area considering the increase in nitrate nitrogen levels of approximately .8% under somewhat adverse conditions.

The use of pure sunflower oil to operate a diesel powered farm tractor proved to be a satisfactory alternative fuel. The tractor should be started on diesel fuel before being switched over to sunflower oil, and also changed back to diesel before shutting down the engine. With no-till farming practices, one would expect that if 6% of the farm were in sunflowers that would provide enough fuel to operate the farm tractors and equipment.

On May 9, 2006 we held a field day. The field day was sponsored by SARE, the Smoky Hills Resource Conservation and Development Council, Porter Farms, Sharp Brothers Seed Company, Agriliance Agronomy Center, Gove County KSU Extension and T&T Chemical/BASF.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.