What’s with all the sunflowers?


Karlie Brady


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A mixed fallow sunflower crop in North Mossman. Image: Karlie Brady.

You have probably noticed all the sunflower crops popping up adding a beautiful array of yellow to the region’s sugar cane paddocks, but the flowers are more than just a pretty look.

The sunflowers are part of a regenerative farming technique used by cane farmers to improve soil health and cane productivity.

This is not an uncommon practice, often at the end of a crop cycle, farmers will plant a fallow crop over the wet season to rest and rejuvenate the soil and, in the past, this has been performed with mainly beans or legumes.

Local farmer, Clint Reynolds, who is an advocate for regenerative farming, said fallow crops not only add nutrients to the soil they also maintain ground cover to reduce erosion leading to less run-off into waterways.

More recently sunflowers have been added to the crops to improve this process.

“The sunflowers you are seeing around are not an entirely new idea, they are part of a regenerative farming technique cane farmers are using based very loosely on permaculture,” Mr Reynolds said.

“If you look closely at where the sunflowers are you will see there have been other plants planted with them as well.”

Mr Reynolds said that different species groups such as the sunflowers, beans, and legumes are planted for their differing effects for promoting soil health.

“The reason for sunflowers in these cover crops is that they are a promoter of mycorrhizal fungi which is the foundation block of building organic carbon in the soil. Which in turn is the start of better soil health.

“They also take up zinc and turn it into a plant-available form of zinc in the sunflowers stems which later is cultivated back into the soil so less or no zinc is needed to be applied at the time of planting the sugar cane,” he said.

At the end of the crop cycle, the sunflowers will be ploughed back into the ground to release the zinc back into the soil.

While it may feel like the sunflowers have popped up out of nowhere this year, Mr Reynolds said he has been using this technique for the last four years and slowly there has been an uptake in the practice.

“There have been farmers in the Douglas shire that have been working with sunflowers for a few years but there has been higher adoption rate of regenerative farming in the last couple of years across the industry.”

Mr Reynolds added that amongst all the befits the flowers bring they also look pretty.

“A side benefit is that it has gotten the community talking about farming and soil revegetation,” he said.

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