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Sunflowers Are Taking  Root in New Areas

Hillsboro, Texas — The line of cars was so thick that Hill County farmer Rodney Schronk couldn’t get into his field of sunflowers.

Hordes of rubber-neckers stopped along Interstate 35W near Hillsboro were taking photographs and walking through the fields to get a close-up look at the rows of tall, yellow flowers.

For Schronk, it was a sign that sunflowers are a little different from crops like corn or cotton. But it was still a little disconcerting that people would sometimes walk off with the flowers as souvenirs.

But he added, “It’s encouraging to see people get out and see the flowers, touch them and see where their food comes from.”

Because they can thrive in dry weather, the bright and bold flowers are popping up in parts of North Texas as farmers realize they’ll grow when other crops won’t. In the past five years, the number of acres planted in Texas’ Ellis, Hill and Navarro counties has grown from about 2,000 to about 24,000.

Ellis County farmer Bob Beakley, 72, was one of the first to start planting sunflowers in North Texas five years ago. His family now has about 3,600 acres of sunflowers. He also has a storage facility at the family farm to store the seeds for farmers until they’re ready to ship for processing in Goodland, Kan. Schronk has a similar facility near Hillsboro but ships the seeds to South Texas.

“They mature before the heat of the summer kicks in, so we can get a crop before it gets too hot,” Beakley said.

Ellis County Extension Agent Mark Arnold said sunflowers have also shown they can handle the vagaries of spring weather a little better than some crops. While a late freeze harmed many crops this spring, sunflowers had few problems.

Sunflowers have historically been grown in the Upper Midwest: The Dakotas are the heart of sunflower country. This spring, South Dakota planted about 650,000 acres and North Dakota planted about 636,000 acres. Texas, meanwhile, planted about 93,000 acres, just nudging out Kansas for the third-most acreage.