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He’s a ‘head-turner’

Features Editor

Pike County is a rather rural area, so crops planted along the roadways don’t often turn the heads of locals. However, Frank Bryan’s " head-turning crop" is getting a lot of looks from passersby – locals and otherwise.

"No, you don’t see a lot of sunflowers around here," Bryan said. "And, people do seem to be enjoying them. In a few days, when all of the heads are open, this field should be quite a sight."

"This field" is 11 acres on the Elba Highway and hundreds, and probably thousands, of sunflowers are looking sunward and nodding in the breeze.

Bryan said he’s not sure if the "head-turning" plants turn their heads to face the sun.

"I really haven’t noticed whether they do or not," he said, adding that he also has no idea how many sunflowers there are in his field. "There’s no way to know, but there’s a lot of them."

This is Bryan’s second crop of sunflowers and he’s growing them for the birds and as a wildlife plot in conjunction with the CRP program.

And, he just might be able to make a little profit with them.

"Don Wambles, who is the administrator of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, said there is a woman in Birmingham who sells her sunflowers for a dollar a stem," Bryan said. "If I could get a dollar a stem for all these, that would be a good little profit."

Bryan estimated he has between $40 and $50 an acre invested in his sunflower field. That includes fertilizer, "which is high" and the seeds.

As market master for the Pioneer Farmers Market in Troy, Bryan is also an enthusiastic producer for the market.

He sold out of his corn in a short time at Thursday’s market and also sold his basket of sunflowers for 50 cents a stem.

"If I could get 50 cents a stem for these, I would be very happy about that," Bryan said, gesturing to the wide expanse of the big-headed yellow blooms. "I’ll be taking some to the farmers’ market from now on to see how they will do."

Sunflowers can be a successful crop in South Alabama if Mother Nature will cooperate and send the showers needed for crops of any kind to grow.

"You can grow corn without much rain, but we sure do need it for everything else," Bryan said. "If we don’t get it, we are going to be in big trouble. The corn could use it, too."

As for the sunflowers, a good soaking rain would do them the world of good.

"All of the blooms would open and we would have a pretty yellow field," Bryan said.

Sunflowers can be used to bring sunshine to a home, but Bryan said they don’t last long.

"Get them in water as soon as you can and they’ll last a while," he said. "Most people who buy sunflowers buy them for the seeds. Hang them upside down and let the seeds dry out and then you can hang them in the yard as feeders for birds. Birds really like sunflower seeds. Squirrels would probably like them, too, if you want to attract squirrels."

The seeds can also be used to plant home plots next

year.

"I didn’t know this, but Don told me that sunflowers will keep insects away from your garden," Bryan said.

"The insects will be attracted to the sunflowers instead of the garden. I have sunflowers planted around my garden, but I planted them because they looked pretty. I didn’t know, at the time, there are other benefits to having sunflowers in the garden."

And, "knock on wood," the deer have stayed away from the sunflowers.

"But when they dry out and are filled with seeds, the deer might find their way to them," he said. "I know the birds will come because this field will be like one big bird feeder."

That is unless Bryan sells all of his blooms before the birds have a chance to covet them.