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Sights of summer . . . Sunflowers add colour to the corner of Thousand Acre and Gardiners Rds, between Oamaru and Kakanui. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

One of North Otago’s favourite crops is making an impact again.

Sunflowers are maturing in paddocks on Thousand Acre Rd, between Oamaru and Kakanui, attracting photographers and adding a feel-good element to the landscape.

They are grown by the Mitchell and Webster families for their animal feeds company Topflite.

“You never get sick of them,” general manager Greg Webster said of the giant yellow flowers.

Topflite has hosted many film crews and photographers since it began growing sunflowers for oil in the 1960s.

By 1974, it switched to supplying sunflower seed to bird clubs and has been producing it as bird feed ever since.

About 100 tonnes is harvested from 50ha.

The plants are sown in October. They cannot be grown in the same paddock in consecutive years, so they are rotated with Mitchell and Webster’s wheat, barley, radish and canary seed crops.

The latter, which Mr Webster said looked like a grass-type plant with an oval-shaped head, was growing alongside the sunflowers this year.

The crops needed the rain that fell just before and after Christmas, he said.

From now on, the sunflowers in particular would need plenty of sunshine to mature.

The flowers were expected to be at their most vibrant colour by the end of this month.

When the back of the head was an intense yellow, the plants were sprayed with a defoliant. If they were left to dry naturally, wild birds would ravage the crop.

Two or three weeks after being defoliated, the seeds were harvested with a “headsnatcher”.

They would go into the granary with a moisture level of 20% to 30% and stay there until it was down to 10%.

Threshing removed sticks and broken seeds, then the shiny striped seed was stored in silos before being included in the Topflite animal feed mixes.

Mr Webster said the company had exported a bit of seed to Singapore and the Pacific islands. However, customs rules made that difficult.

It had also grown sunflower seeds outside the district in the past, but now just used its own land.