Sunflower crops, prices look good

The drought and sizzling temperatures that baked U.S. corn and soybean crops this summer didn’t demolish the country’s sunflower crop, says an industry spokesperson.

Given the sizable U.S. crop, prices are lower than last year, but better than the long term average .

John Sandbakken, executive director of the U.S. National Sunflower Association, said most of the North Dakota crop is rated as good. In South Dakota, the other major sunflower state, the crop is fair to poor but it has endured the heat that devastated cornfields in the region.

“Sunflowers are doing pretty good relative to other crops. I’ve heard of people chopping their corn already and (others) just plowing it,” Sandbakken said from his office in Mandan, N.D.

“It (sunflowers) isn’t in that good to excellent category, but given the climatic conditions, it’s doing very well…. There’s going to be a good, harvestable crop.”

U.S. sunflower acres rebounded in 2012 after losing thousands of acres to flooding last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated total acreage of black oil sunflowers and confections at 1.8 million, which is up significantly from 1.5 million acres last year.

Sunflower prices are rising despite the acreage increase, thanks to worries over the U.S. soybean crop. In North Dakota, old crop oil sunflowers were selling for 26 cents per pound in mid-August and new crop was slightly less, at 25 cents per lb.

Prices are even higher in Manitoba, said Mike Durand, sales manager with Nestibo Agra, a sunflower and special crops processor in Deloraine, Man.

“For the new crop … for the black oils, I’m at 30 cents (per pound) and 30 to 32 (cents) for old crop.”

Canadian growers typically receive higher prices because Canadian processors import a significant amount of black oil sunflowers from the United States, Durand said.

Proximity to local processors offers Manitoba growers a price advantage.

“The farmers here, they get a higher price for their black oils compared to American farmers, for that reason,” Durand said.

Prices are down compared to last summer, when there was a shortage of sunflowers and buyers paid 40 cents or higher per lb. to secure stocks of old crop sunflowers.

However, this year’s prices remain well above levels in the late 2000s, when sunflowers traded at 15 to 22 cents per lb.

Sandbakken said growers may see higher prices for their seeds later in the crop year.

Concerns about the U.S. soybean crop pulled the oilseed complex higher this summer, but sunflower prices may rise further because soybean oil prices remain relatively weak, Sandbakken said.

“Soybeans and meal have just skyrocketed,” he said.

“Oil has (risen) to some extent, but it’s not quite as aggressive as those other two products.”

Soybean oil stocks are plentiful and Canada is expected to produce another record canola crop.

“(But) going forward, with the decrease in soybean production … that’s going to impact (soybean) oil. It’s going to bring those stocks down … and oil prices will pick up some of that value.”

Oil World recently lowered its sunflower production forecast for Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. If the forecast is correct, it could amplify demand for North American sunflowers, Sandbakken said.

As for confection sunflowers, prices are two to five cents per lb. lower than black oils in Manitoba.

“Nestibo Agra has consistently been paying more for the black oil sunflowers, compared to confecs, for the last two and a half years,” Durand said.

Confections are trading at a discount in Canada and the U.S. because of cheap competition from Argentina and China.

“The markets are still buying,” Durand said. “But at the moment, it’s being supplied by countries that can supply much cheaper than we can.”

For example, hot and dry conditions in Argentina have shifted soybean acres to heat tolerant sunflowers.

“So that’s been promoting acres down there,” Durand said.

The price premium and the higher yields produced by black oil varieties have prompted Manitoba growers to shift production accordingly.

Confection sunflowers traditionally represented 70 to 80 percent of acres in the province, but this year the acreage split is 50-50, said Claire Kincaid, an agronomist with the National Sunflower Association of Canada.

About 46,000 acres are black oil sunflowers and 44,700 are confection types, based on insured acres data for Manitoba.

Kincaid said sunflower yields in the province look promising because disease pressure has been minimal and crop stands are healthy.

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