Strong sunflower prices should boost acreage

Good confectionary and birdseed demand is supporting market

Sunflowers should gain a few acres in Manitoba this year, barring another spring flood in the southwestern corner of the province.

Strong prices for black oil and confectionary sunflowers are prompting more Manitoba growers to consider the crop, says Mike Durand, a procurement specialist with Sun Country Farms, a bird food processor in Langham, Sask.

“When the markets on all crops are not as good as what they were a year ago, we see a lot more tire kickers coming through our booth,” said Durand during the annual trade show held in Brandon last week.

Jody Locke, general manager of Agri-Tel, a grain merchant and wild bird food distributor in Beausejour, Man., said bird food demand is pushing the market higher. New crop prices are up from last year.

“This time last year, we were somewhere around the 20 cent mark (per pound),” she said.

“This year we’re a little higher. We’re 22 or 23 (cents per lb.).”

Locke said growers are showing interest because sunflowers can be highly profitable.

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“If you look at crop input price versus selling price, sunflowers in general are probably your highest return.”

New crop confectionary sunflowers are five to six cents higher than black oils. The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp., the provincial crop insurer, has announced insurance values of 27 cents per lb. for confectionary sunflowers and 21 cents per lb. for black oils this year.

Ben Friesen, a sunflower and edible bean buyer with Legumex Walker, said global demand for confectionary sunflowers is steady.

“Confections have been running pretty stable. There’s no huge demand (shifts) up or down.”

Manitoba farmers traditionally grow more confectionary sunflowers than black oils. Last year’s acreage split was 55 to 60 percent confectionary and 40 to 45 percent black oils.

Friesen expects a similar acreage split this year.

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Sunflower industry representatives were hoping acreage would jump in Manitoba last year, but intense spring rain drowned out potential acres in southwestern Manitoba.

“We were a little higher last year and we lost probably 20,000 acres out west … because guys couldn’t seed,” he said.

Acres should be higher than last year if a number of those producers turn to sunflowers this spring.

“It won’t be a huge swing, but it is positive,” Friesen said.

However, Manitoba sunflower processors are also losing out in the baking ingredient market. Some North American baking firms are buying cheaper sunflower seed from places like Ukraine instead of buying domestic product.

“We are seeing a lot of imports from other countries,” Durand said.

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“Especially in Eastern Canada and the eastern U.S.A. The bakery market, they’re importing from other countries rather than buying from North Dakota or Manitoba.”