August 10, 2013 in City

Roadside attraction

Field of sunflowers causing motorists to stop, get eyeful
By The Spokesman-Review
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Grace Hegwer, 4, plays in a field of sunflowers while stopping for a photo opportunity with her grandmother, Florence Hegwer, and her sisters Thursday near Deer Park. The field has attracted traffic and visitors because of its vibrant colors.
(Full-size photo)

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Dennis Urbat thought his 80 acres of sunflowers along U.S. Highway 395 might be popular.

But even he is surprised by the number of people pulling over to gaze at the bright yellow blooms set against a mountain backdrop a few miles northwest of Deer Park.

“Everybody is beside themselves,” he said.

The field has become the place to go for wedding and graduation pictures as well as family portraits.

Dozens of people at a time stop at the driveway of a State Patrol weigh station right next to the sunflower field. Many are from out of town. Some even arrive after dusk, using flashes for their photos, Urbat said.

Elinor Coghlan wandered among the blooms with her three sisters. “Some of the big ones remind me of faces,” she said.

Her mother, Ivory Coghlan, warned the kids to watch out for bees. She said she drove north from Spokane on Friday to pick up some locally raised food and couldn’t resist stopping on her return home.

Urbat said most visitors have been careful not to damage the plants. Last year, Urbat said, he planted a smaller field of sunflowers east of the highway, and that field drew visitors, too.

This year, the sunflowers are west of the highway with the blooms pointing eastward. Sunflowers turn their blooms to the east, he said, making the early morning the best time of day to view them. The blooming should continue into September.

Urbat is leasing the field; he and his wife, Lisa, farm 1,700 acres.

He said he hopes to get about 2,600 pounds of sunflower seeds per acre and sell them for $520 a ton.

Global Harvest Foods in Mead has offered to purchase the seeds, which will be used for bird feed.

Urbat said he decided to plant sunflowers after a friend from North Dakota recommended them.

“I like to experiment with new crops,” said the 50-year-old Urbat. He also grows canola, three types of wheat, barley, oats, Timothy hay and alfalfa.

The sunflowers won’t be ready for harvest until after the first freeze kills the plants and the seeds dry out. Then, Urbat will make some adjustments to his combine and gather the seeds.

On Friday, Urbat was harvesting wheat, trying to beat any damaging thunderstorms that might arrive over the Inland Northwest this weekend.

Forecasters are calling for a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms today and Sunday in Spokane, with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms tonight. Heavy rain could fall beneath the strongest storm cells. Highs should be near 90 with lows in the lower 60s through Friday.

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