Galva Kansas is known to many as the Sunflower State, but in reality, fields of golden sunflowers are few and far between.
The state is ranked third in sunflower production, behind the Dakotas, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
But sunflowers seem to be making a comeback in the Sunflower State.
The crop’s higher cash prices, which many are attributing to Lay’s Potato Chips’ use of sunflower oil for its potato chips, is catching the eye of many area producers.
But some don’t plant sunflowers for the oil. A second, larger market for the mile-high plant is the use of sunflower seeds as bird seed.
“We enjoy feeding and watching the birds,” said Galva producer Don Unruh, who adds that many birds enjoy eating sunflower seeds.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sunflower seeds are the No. 1 choice for most wild birds.
“Black-oil sunflower has a higher percentage of meat and is a very nutritious source of high quality protein. The softer outer shell makes it easy for smaller birds like chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, goldfinches, pine siskins and finches,” Wild Birds Forever said.
“The seed also boasts a high concentration of oil, which is especially important in the winter. Birds will use their oil glands to spread the oil over their feathers to keep them buoyant, dry and warm.”
Unruh has been growing black oil sunflowers for 10 years and bagging them as bird seed. Last year he purchased his own bagging system.
“At first we had the elevator bag them and we cut back some of the seed. Then eventually others heard about it and said ‘I want some too,’” Unruh said.
Unruh said his secret to keeping the seeds clean is what has made him successful.
Unruh sells some of his seeds out of his backyard, but most are sold at Chisholm Trail Country Store in Newton and Sheila’s Garden Market in Galva.
The Unruhs are happy where they’re at and have no plans of starting their own store.
“If you want to devote your life to it, we could open a store,” Sharon Unruh said. “It works good as a hobby and we can make a little extra money. It’s fun and makes some money, but it is added work.”
Unruh has also started to bag his field corn and sell it to Chisholm Trail Country Store as deer corn for hunters.