Sunflower industry struggling

Near-death escapes are exciting but can leave a lot of scars and re-quire lengthy recovery.

That’s what Manitoba’s sunflower industry has been going through, getting back to decent acreage but feeling bruised from the brutal bashing of a couple of years ago.

“It’s been tough for us as an association, but also for our processors here in the province,” National Sunflower Association president Gregg Fotheringham said after the organization’s annual meeting Feb. 17.

“It’s hard for them to procure the volumes they need for the export market, and we lose out on the check-off dollars we need to further research.”

Flooding and disease problems have hit sunflower acreage hard in the last five years.

Flooding stole many acres, and humid growing conditions created massive losses to disease.

The crop, which ranged from 140,000 to 200,000 acres per year in 2001-09, fell to 134,000 acres in 2010 and 35,000 in 2011. It bounced back in the 2012-14 period but never higher than 80,000 acres.

The association expected acres to reach 100,000 last year, but massive flooding in southwestern Manitoba took thousands of acres out of production.

Fotheringham said acreage should reach at least 100,000 this year, which will help keep the organization moving forward with research funding and priorities.

Crop development survives on check-off dollars, so the smaller the acreage the less money there is for sunflower research. Various sorts of matching funding were key to keeping sunflower development money flowing in recent years.

“The external funding that we’ve been dragging in has been monumental, so our own cost is about 25 cents on every dollar,” said Fotheringham.

He said there’s no reason why acreage won’t reach six digits again because growing sunflowers pays.

“When you sit down and do a cost analysis, it still works out very well,” said Fotheringham.

“Those numbers are fairly consistent. If you can grow some good quality and decent yields, a producer will do well.”

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