DIXON – The agriculture program’s first crop of sunflowers are in bloom at Sauk Valley Community College.
The fields were planted earlier this year to expand and diversify the ag program’s curriculum and production experience for students.
The goal is to deliver hands-on learning to enhance students’ knowledge beyond the traditional, local crop-production methods such as with corn and soybeans.
The 5-acre plot stretches along state Route 2 near the entrance to the college. Community members are welcome to take photos with the flowers, but parking is not allowed along Route 2, which is why the college put up no-parking signs. Do not pick, cut or damage the crop.
Each acre has the potential to yield between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds of seed that will be used for bird seed after harvest and cleaning.
The yield of the planted seed type also can be used as sunflower oil, but less so for direct human consumption. The sunflower seeds at the supermarket are a larger type with a heavier shell and lower oil content, which makes them easier to process and results in a larger kernel.
The seed for the sunflowers was donated by Lauren Bishop and Pioneer Seed.
The sunflowers are one of two specialty crops the program planted, the other being pumpkins. Ag students may rotate in other crops in future years, such as watermelon, sweet corn, popcorn, potatoes and others.
“Specialty crops such as pumpkins and sunflowers are a viable option to diversify your farming operation, no matter the size,” ag instructor Kevin Larsen said. “We are showing our students and the community that these beautiful crops can do just that and address food supply issues, as well.”