Photos: Ellis County sunflower farmer

Sunflower farmer

Credit: WFAA

Ellis County farmer Bob Beakley is credited with recognizing the potential of sunflowers as a suitable crop for the dry conditions in North Texas.

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WFAA

Posted on July 9, 2013 at 3:36 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 9 at 3:36 AM

They came spontaneously, drawn to a farmer's field in Allen.

"I've never seen anything as gorgeous as this," said Nina Rogers. "Ever."

There were so many unannounced visitors, in fact, the police came, too.

"I was amazed," said Andrew Wu. "It was almost as if the eyes couldn't take it in."

For the short time they were in bloom, Jennifer Foster's sunflower fields in Collin County were quite a draw.

"We just ask that people be respectful of the land and the crop," she said. "It is our livelihood."

It's Bob Beakley's livelihood, too. He's a farmer in Ennis, further south, and his star crop gets unannounced visits, too.

Beakley is credited as the North Texas farmer who gambled five years ago that sunflowers could be a profitable crop in cracked, dry soil.

"I think everyone was just kind of standing back and waiting to see what happened," he said.

Because of recent drought conditions in North Texas, more and more farmers are turning to sunflowers because they do better in dry conditions than traditional crops like corn. And that's led to a sunflower boom in and around Ellis County.

"The first year it turned out very well, and that was five years ago," Beakley said. "This is our fifth crop of sunflowers."

The Texas A&M Extension office also grows test plots on Beakley's farm with 15 varieties of the big yellow plants to see what grows best in which weather conditions.

"Some years, based on the rainfall, this variety might work," explained A&M's Mark Arnold. "Next year, it may not."

And while the flower tourists in Collin County just see beauty, Beakley sees small, black seeds that he sells for sunflower oil. Larger seeds are used for food.

"The bigger the better," he explained, "and the bigger they are, the more they're worth."

And that's a good thing, because curiosity doesn't pay the bills.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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