TOWN OF BELOIT—At first, it takes you off-guard.
That’s because in a midwestern world of corn and soybeans you might not expect to view a sea of golden headed sunflowers, acre after acre, as you drive on Townline Road in the Town of Beloit.
Located just across the street from the Alliant Energy plant, the field of sunflowers not only is a colorful sight, it represent innovative farm practices.
“Crop rotation is important,” said Randy Hughes of Hughes Farms, the fifth generation farmer who, with his family, owns more than 5,000 tillable acres in Rock County.
“Crop rotation helps to bring out the nutrients in the soil and fake out the weeds,” he said.
Fueled by organic farm practices, the rain and the sun, more than 300 acres of sunflowers in a couple of fields have bloomed on Townline Road as part of the crop rotation program there. Roughly another 160 acres of the flowers have been planted on another of his farms, Hughes said.
The sunflowers are planted by seed in rows.
As he looked over the Beloit field on this day, he noted how densely grown together the plants had become.
“That helps keep out the weeds,” he said.
The weather has cooperated for the most part, but he did irrigate some when the dry weeks arrived.
“We did four passes over, about a half inch, four times,” he said.
The present crop of sunflowers is the second round of plantings for the season.
And the season isn’t quite done yet.
“We hope they will make it before the first frost, they need about another month,” Hughes said.
For now, they almost glow in the morning light, their rounded heads facing east as if to catch all the early morning rays.
But everything has a season and when the time is right, they will drop their heads and dry out. They will be harvested with a combine that is slightly different than the one used for corn.
The harvested crop will have multiple uses, including using it to produce sunflower oil for cooking and also for use in make-up, for example, Hughes said.
The leftover plant remnants will be used for livestock feed, he said.
Hughes Farms also grow several other crops such as corn, peas, soybeans, sorghum and wheat barley, for example.
While he admits farming is always a gamble because weather, for instance, can’t be controlled, Hughes still talks long about his passion for the work, his interest in conservation and sustainable farm practices.
He says it is a balancing act and when the growing season is done, you either make money or you don’t.
“Sometimes it’s a homerun and sometimes you strike out, but I still love it,” he said.