Everything’s coming up sunflowers
For Ted Grinter, the reward of having the most beautiful sunflower fields in the area is more than reaping a good harvest. During the past 18 years, Grinter and his family have been growing the Sunflower State's state flower almost in their own back yard.
"It's seeing the people coming out here to take pictures of the sunflowers," the 33-year-old Grinter said. "That's part of my reward just to see them out there having fun."
During the blooming season, passers-by on U.S. Highway 24-40 park at the pull-off area near Reno and pose for pictures. It's not uncommon to see entire families smiling for the camera. In fact, the spot has become so popular that Grinter and his wife, Kris, have put up signs at the field about six miles southwest of Tonganoxie.
"Here they are again just for you," the signs read. It tells visitors they can buy two sunflower heads for a dollar. Visitors are told to take all the pictures they want. It even offers a piece of friendly advice: "Remember to take off the lens cap." Moreover, the sign thanks those who stop to admire "Farmer Ted's hard work."
It does sound like hard work. As does farming in general.
It's a warm September afternoon. While sitting on his grandmother's shady back porch during an interview, Grinter never takes his eyes off of the nearby grain bins where an auger is loading corn into a semi-trailer truck. He jumps up occasionally and hurries to the truck, which he moves in order to fill the trailer evenly. His father, Jim Grinter, drives up, and Ted gives an ear-ringing whistle to signal where he is. Corn harvest has just started, and there's not a moment to waste.
Soon it will be time to harvest sunflowers, too.
If the weather's good, sunflower harvest will only take a couple of days. A good crop might yield 1,000 pounds to 2,000 pounds per acre, Grinter said.
About 15 years ago, the crop brought a bin-buster record of 2,000 pounds. "We apparently planted the right thing, and Mother Nature was on our side," Grinter said.
This year's 80-acre crop is looking good, he said, even without the rain it could have used.
"My dad (Jim Grinter) started the sunflowers originally. The idea was to get a little more diversified and it's stayed that way," Grinter said.
"It keeps me busy in the winter. I clean the seeds, bag them and sell them to feed stores and individuals."
It keeps him busy in the spring, too. Usually the sunflowers are double cropped, planted immediately after wheat harvest. This year, Grinter planted full-season sunflowers and planned to have the seeds in the ground by early to mid-June. But because of rain, he couldn't get in the field to plant until the end of June.
He plants 22,000 sunflower seeds per acre, using a 12-row corn planter to get them into the ground. Fall harvest is accomplished using the same combine header that he uses for cutting milo.
After the combine knocks the seeds from the heads, the seeds are cleaned in a "millerator," a used piece of milling equipment he bought from a mill in McPherson. The seeds are stored in the bin until Grinter can bag them.
Grinter explained that there are two types of sunflower crops: those grown for oil and those grown for confectionery purposes.
His are oil seeds, used mainly for bird seed and cooking oil.
Grinter's customers include area co-ops and elevators, as well as individuals.
Each year, he sells about three tons of sunflower seeds to the Kansas City Audubon Society, and from two to three tons to the Jayhawk Audubon Society. How quickly each crop sells depends in part on the weather. "If it's too mild a winter, the birds don't come in and people don't buy as many seeds."
Usually, he said, most seeds are sold by the mid-March. He chuckled, then added, "But my wife would argue that it's June."
Grinter looks at farming as a changing lifestyle and remembers when his family used to farm ground in Tonganoxie where B&J Applemart and other businesses are now. The growth in the area makes farmland harder to come by. Farm families tend to hang onto their land. When farmland does go on the market, Grinter said, it's often bought up by his main competitors builders and developers.
He could have chosen another occupation, but he said he's glad he stayed with farming. "I don't make the big paycheck that everybody else makes, but the way you feel about your work is worth quite a bit to me. I would challenge a lot of people to look at their job and say they're happy to go to it every day."