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How to Grow & Harvest Niger Seeds

Updated February 21, 2017

Farmers grow niger seed, sometimes called thistle seed or nyjer seed, for use as an oil source and human consumption in its native Ethiopia. In the United States niger seed commonly finds its way into bird feeders. Farmers produce niger seed commercially in parts of Minnesota, North Dakota and Canada. Niger plants grow new plants from seeds each year. It is known for its short growing season and disease resistance. Farmers commonly grow the crop under contract to birdseed processors.

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  1. Prepare the soil bed by ploughing or tilling to remove existing plants. Seed in rows about 20 inches apart at a planting rate of 3.18kg. per acre. Plant the seeds about 1/2 inch deep. Plant the seeds in the spring after the last threat of frost or later in the year. The plant requires about 75 days from planting to harvest.

  2. Place beehives close to the crop field. Niger plants are not self-pollinating and require insect assistance. The American Niger Seed Company suggests one beehive for every acre of niger seed crop. Poor pollination results in poor seed yield.

  3. Monitor the niger plants for sclerotina. Sclerotina, a mould disease of the stems, occurs in wet weather in crops such as niger and sunflowers. Check state regulations for approved fungicides if you detect sclerotina.

  4. Swath the crop once the seed heads form and start to exhibit shattering. Swathing utilises a piece of farm equipment that cuts the crop and gathers it into a windrow or continuous pile of the crop. The niger commonly lies in the windrow a few days while the stems and stalks continue to dry.

  5. Harvest the niger seeds using a standard farm combine adjusted for a fine light crop. Combine settings and adjustments vary with the manufacturer so consult the owner's manual.

  6. Dry the crop, commonly done with a crop dryer, to no more than 9 per cent moisture. This prevents mould and mildew of the stored seeds.

  7. Tip

    Use only niger seed marketed for planting or seed use. Imported seeds, brought to this country for birdseed, are heat treated to kill weed seeds. The process also renders the niger seeds unable to germinate.


    Use only niger seed marketed for planting or seed use. Regulations require heat treatment of imported seeds, brought to this country for birdseed, which kills weed seeds. The process also renders the niger seeds unable to germinate.

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Things You'll Need

  • Plough or tiller
  • Bee hives
  • Fungicide
  • Swather
  • Combine
  • Grain dryer

About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.

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