Sunflower fields photo hot spot

A rural road in North Otago has turned into a photography hot spot.

Sunflowers maturing in paddocks on Thousand Acre Rd, between Oamaru and Kakanui, are attracting people keen to capture the cheerful summer sight.

The sunflowers are grown for bird and small animal feed company Topflite.

‘‘You never get sick of them,’’ general manager Greg Webster said of the giant yellow flowers.

Topflite has hosted many film crews and photographers since it began growing sunflowers for oil in the 1960s.

By 1974, it switched to supplying sunflower seed to bird clubs and has been producing it as bird feed ever since. About 100 tonnes is harvested from 50ha.

The plants are sown in October. They cannot be grown in the same paddock in consecutive years, so they are rotated with wheat, barley, radish and canary seed crops.

The crops needed the rain that fell just before and after Christmas, he said.

From now on, the sunflowers, in particular, would need plenty of sunshine to mature.

The flowers were expected to be at their most vibrant colour about now. When the back of the head was an intense yellow, the plants were sprayed with a defoliant.

If they were left to dry naturally, wild birds would ravage the crop.

Two or three weeks after being defoliated, the seeds were harvested with a ‘‘headsnatcher’’. They would go into the granary with a moisture level of 20% to 30% and stay there until that was down to 10%.

Threshing removed sticks and broken seeds, then the seed was stored in silos before being included in the Topflite animal feed mixes.

Mr Webster said the company had exported a bit of seed to Singapore and the Pacific islands. However, customs rules made that difficult.

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