This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: A previous version had Charlie Edinger’s name spelt incorrectly.

Mt. VERNON, S.D. (KELO) — As a leading state in sunflower production, finding a sea of the yellow crop in late summer is not uncommon in South Dakota. However, now that harvest season is upon us, those beautiful flowers have now become a risky crop for farmers to combine.

This brand-new tractor has only been on this Mt. Vernon farm for three weeks. What started as a day of planting into sunflower stubble quickly turned into a disaster as Charlie Edinger’s new tractor went up in flames in a matter of minutes from the dry stalks.

“I immediately was trying the best I could to reach in and grab and pull stalks out and after 20 seconds I knew it was kind of a lost cause. So, I basically hopped back in the tractor real quick, got on the phone with my brother said ‘call the fire department ASAP,'” said Edinger. “I basically had to turn it to this area with low residue here and face it into the wind and air it downwind so we could salvage the air seeder because I knew at that point the fire was going to take the whole tractor.”

While Edinger has had sunflower fires during harvest before, he has never had one while planting into stalks before.

“Sunflowers are a riskier crop for fires. This newer equipment has a lot more protective shields around the engines in the tractors. So, unfortunately, a lot of this protective shielding can trap residue and kindling you might say and it makes it harder for the residue to fall out so it contains the residue and keeps it trapped within the engine area,” said Edinger. 

During sunflower harvest, many farmers take several precautions to avoid combine fires.

“We typically twice a day have a high capacity air compressor and we blow off our machines to keep fires from the building. The dust has got a lot of high oil content in it and it will smolder for a long time so we need to keep our machines clean,” said Edinger. 

“If things get still where the dust is just hanging in the air, that seems to cause quite a bit of problems. Keeping water around keeping your fire extinguisher ready just in case something would happen. If a combine does start on fire it will go up pretty fast so you’ve really got to pay attention,” said Todd Yackley, farmer. 

Although sunflowers may come with some dangers, they are also a very beneficial crop to many farmers in central South Dakota.

“Sunflowers work very well in our rotation. We have winter wheat, corn, soybeans, and sunflowers, and out west of 281 on our poorer producing soils, or less rainfall area, sunflowers do quite well,” said Edinger. “This year, we actually dropped our soybean acres and increased our sunflower acres due to the expected dry conditions and they have been a very profitable crop for us.”

“Just the cost and the revenue per acre is high and of course, they handle the drought better, so when we have these dry years we may corn that may have a hard time getting to 100 bushels, but sunflowers may have an easier time getting to 2000 pounds, so we are almost able to yield more revenue per acre than any other crop,” said Chuck Todd, Director for the National Sunflower Association and the South Dakota Oilseeds Council. 

This year, producers are seeing good prices for their sunflowers. One reason for this is the Ukraine War. Ukraine is the largest sunflower-producing country in the world.

“They are probably going to be down half and I mean they produce 60% probably in that area of all the sunflowers so that’s a big chunk to take down, so we are probably going to be look at initial prices at the 27 to 28 cents per pound right here to start with and then as we begin to count those acres, it could move up a little,” said Todd. 

Keeping South Dakota a top producer of sunflowers for the nation.

“One of the reasons is just revenue and then it’s a good rotation crop, so it rotates away from a grass which would be our wheat and our corn, so that rotates our herbicides so it’s good for our soil,” said Todd. 

Last year, South Dakota was the largest sunflower-producing state in the country with North Dakota ranked second. Sully County was the highest-producing county. We will not know this year’s stats until after harvest is over.