Time is right for sunflower option: analyst

Sunflowers face relentless pressure from the advance of soybeans and corn into their traditional territory, but market adviser Mike Krueger thinks growing the crop might be a good contrarian gamble this year.


“If you’re thinking about an alternative, something that might have a niche market that could be good, (you might want to consider sunflowers this spring),” Krueger, who operates the Money Farm in Fargo, North Dakota, said during a presentation at CropConnect.


Sunflowers are a small acreage crop with only a handful of world players. A production problem in any one of them could short the market. 


U.S. confectionary sunflower acres have “collapsed” as soybeans and corn surge into the traditional growing areas and foreign competitors gobble up overseas sales. Krueger estimates that U.S. growers will plant 100,000 to 150,000 acres this spring, down from almost 180,000 last year and more than 300,000 in 2014 and 2015.


Manitoba plantings of confectionary and oilseed sunflowers last year slumped to 100,000 acres from 150,000 to 200,000 through most of the 2000s. Rising soybean acreage is the main cause.


Oilseed sunflowers have become about as popular as confectionary in Manitoba and have been more popular for many years in the U.S. That places those sunflowers in the oilseeds market, which is fortunate because sunflowers have a good reputation as a “healthy oil.”


However, the popularity of soybeans has badly undermined interest in seeding sunflowers. Soybeans are generally profitable, require few inputs and are relatively easy to grow.


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Ukraine has become a competitor in the export market because it is closer to some markets and has low production costs. 


Krueger said that won’t change soon. However, the good part of having low acreage in North America and a country such as Ukraine supplying a big part of the international trade is that stocks-to-use ratios can change dramatically if anybody has a problem.


Stocks are now at comfortable levels, but that could change significantly, prompting a price rally if a producer such as Ukraine had a production problem. 


“The market’s pretty comfortable, pretty complacent,” said Krueger. “That can change really, really quickly.”


That situation will continue in future years if sunflowers remain a small acreage crop.


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