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Potential Use of Perennial Sunflower to Reduce Blackbird Damage to Sunflower


Wildlife Conservation Sunflower Plots (WCSP) have shown potential to reduce blackbird (Icteridae) damage in commercial sunflower. Also known as lure, decoy, or trap crops, WCSP are strategically placed food plots that provide an easily available and proximate food source that entices blackbirds away from valuable commercial crops. By providing an alternative food source, WCSP reduce direct damage to commercial fields, while also lowering indirect costs that producers incur attempting to prevent blackbird damage. However, cost inefficiencies have deterred widespread use of WCSP. Cost-benefit ratios of using WCSP would be greatly improved if a perennial sunflower were used instead of the annual types currently available. Perennial sunflower would reduce seed cost and planting cost, and perhaps lower opportunity costs, if able to thrive on poorer quality soils. In the near-term, scientists are focused on producing a perennial sunflower sufficiently productive to replace annual WCSP plantings. In 2013, scientists from the University of Minnesota, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, and USDA Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center evaluated a test plot of an open-pollinated variety of perennial sunflower resulting from genetic crossing of a domesticated annual species (Helianthus annuus) and a perennial wild species (H. tuberosus). Here, we report on results from the 2013 field test and discuss the outlook for development of perennial sunflower, which would help lessen damage to commercial sunflower when used in WCSP; provide a pesticide-free food source for beneficial insects, such as honey bees; help stabilize highly erodible lands near wetlands; and provide year-round habitat for wildlife. Lastly, we provide an initial strategy for using perennial sunflower to reduce blackbird damage in commercial sunflower.

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