Sunflower industry hopes for recovery in Manitoba

Sunflowers are down but not out in Manitoba.

Seeded acreage fell to 66,000 this year, one of the smallest plantings in the last decade.

However, industry representatives are feeling hopeful about next year because more buyers are interested in Canadian sunflowers.

“We’ve have a couple of new organizations get into the business,” said Troy Turner, agronomist with the National Sunflower Association of Canada.

“Delmar Commodities came on late in the spring and they are going to be buying oilseed (sunflowers). (And) there’s been a new announcement from the Red River group and they’re coming into Canada.”

Red River Commodities of Fargo, North Dakota, announced plans earlier this month to open a new business in Winkler, Man. The firm, called Red River Global Ingredients, will buy sunflowers and possibly other commodities from Manitoba growers. Red River operates a processing facility and bird food plant in Fargo and another bird food plant in Texas.

About 50 percent of Manitoba’s sunflower acres were the oilseed variety this year, and the other half was confectionary. Most oilseed sunflower seeds grown in Manitoba are sold into the bird food market because the province doesn’t have a sunflower seed crushing plant.

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Turner said demand for oilseed sunflowers is strong right now, which bodes well for 2017.

“Speaking with processors, they’re not going to be shying away. They will be trying to get as many acres as possible.”

Almost all of Canada’s sunflowers are grown in Manitoba, where acreage has ranged from 70,000 to 95,000 in recent years. Acreage of 150,000 to 185,000 was more typical in the late 2000s,but the rise of soybeans, a relatively easy crop to grow, has cut into sunflower production.

Manitoba’s sunflower industry is small compared to North Dakota and South Dakota, where growers seeded 670,000 and 540,000 acres, respectively, this year. However, acres are down in the Dakotas and across America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said seeded acres were 1.6 million, down 14 percent from last year.

John Sandbakken, executive director of the U.S. National Sunflower Association, said yields look decent in North Dakota, but total production will be less than last year. The USDA pegged American production at 2.46 billion pounds., a reduction of 16 percent from last year.

“By the end of this marketing year … a year from now, stocks are going to be fairly tight,” he said.

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“Worldwide there’s a reduction in rapeseed production…. In the European Union they’re going to replace (rapeseed) with probably sunflower oil. So a lot of (sunflower) seeds will be crushed…. I think we’re going to be in a good position in 2017 to add acres.”

An expansion of sunflowers in Argentina, one of the world’s largest sunflower producers, could spoil the party. The USDA reported that acres are up 38 percent this year in that country, rising to 4.1 million in 2016-17 from 3.2 million in 2015-16.

Oilseed sunflower prices at crushing plants in North Dakota, were around US16.50 cents per lb. in the second week of October. Most Manitoba growers contracted their production at 22 to 25 cents per lb., Turner said.

Confectionary sunflower contracts are typically a few cents higher than oilseeds.

“They (sunflowers) are still pencilling out as the top three (crops in Manitoba) … in terms of profit,” Turner said.

Harvest of this year’s crop is just underway in Manitoba. Turner said early results look decent because yields are average and quality is good.

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Contact robert.arnason@producer.com