Flower Power

County sunflower harvest looking bright

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David Estes stands in his sunflower farm field this summer when the flowers were in full bloom. (Photo provided)

By Carol Mowdy Bond
Contributing Writer

Janice and David Estes, who own Estes Farms of El Reno, are very busy. They’ve got way too much going on for any foolishness. At the moment, the family is harvesting sunflower seeds from part of their about 5,000 acres of Canadian County farm lands.

And you should be thanking them, and families like theirs, every time you sit down to eat a meal or a snack. David is quick to say that food doesn’t come from the grocery story, rather it comes from farm fields where farm families work really, really hard. He said that as Americans, “We haven’t done a good job of educating people about where their food comes from.”

David, who spends 10 to 12 hours a day driving a combine when he’s harvesting a crop, said, “We plant sunflowers in May. They were in full bloom. But now they’re past that point and are brown. After harvesting, we’ll take our seeds to Northern Sun Sunflower Seed Processing in Goodland, Kansas, to make cooking oil. And we’ll also have some of it processed as bird seed. This is my fourth year to plant sunflowers. COVID-19 has impacted us. It’s caused a trucking problem. But at this point, we have enough storage.”

While driving the combine, David Estes said, “Sunflowers love dry, hot weather. And this summer’s storms had strong winds, and that caused us problems. But we’ll get about 1800 to 2000 pounds of sunflower seeds from this harvest. In this sunflower field, after it’s harvested, we don’t have to till it. Next we’ll probably plant black oats. It’s a winter oat.”
“We rotate our farm fields,” David Estes said. “We rotate between sunflowers, wheat, milo, alfalfa, and two kinds of oats. We use the alfalfa for hay and seed. It makes our soil healthier by rotating our crops. We’ll harvest our alfalfa field next week. We planted it last fall.”

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A sophomore at El Reno High School, Janaya, the Estes daughter, is part of El Reno FFA. Janaya said, “I spend a lot of time on the land. The farm is cool. I play junior varsity basketball at El Reno. When I don’t have a game or practice, I’m out on the farm. I think it’s cool and very interesting.” Janaya knows how to do pretty much everything on the farm, and she’s been driving the farm equipment for quite a few years. She even stacks and hauls the hay. “I’m the go-to person when anyone needs to know what to do,” Janaya said.

David Estes said his cousin, Brice Hill, is not only his main worker, but he is also a very hard worker. An El Reno High School alum, Brice said, “Right now we’ve got about 1,200 acres planted in alfalfa, and 2,100 acres of sunflower. We also sprigged a field with Bermuda, which we’re growing for hay. I love working on the farm. I really like the agriculture and that it’s such a challenge. And I like learning about plants.”

Brice explains the field that is growing alfalfa, which will be made into hay. Brice said, “Alfalfa hay is the steak of livestock food. It is full of protein and all kinds of good stuff. The number of bales we get per acre depends on all kinds of conditions. Alfalfa grows year round. In a good year, we’ll have five to six cuttings. Our alfalfa will be dairy cattle feed. We’ll take it to Purina in St. Louis, or to Texas, or to the state prison at McAlester, or various feed yards.”

The Estes family also has a mouser. It’s Izzy, their farm dog, who races through the rows of sunflowers in search of mice.

David’s grandfather, Earl Estes, delivered Pepsi Cola. But he wanted a farm. So he bought one in 1923. That farm passed down to David’s dad, Jerry Estes, who now has wheat and cattle on Earl’s farm land. David Estes, who was raised on that farm, was born and raised in El Reno, and he’s an El Reno High School alum. His wife, Janice, retired as a school teacher at Ranchwood Elementary School in Yukon.

“I do a lot of other things besides farming,” David said. “And at 32, I went to Francis Tuttle Technology Center and got my crop insurance license. I own Estes Insurance Agency in El Reno.”