Man. sunflower acreage could slip

WINNIPEG — Manitoba sunflower growers are feeling uneasy as they head into the growing season following the closure of an Alberta sunflower processing plant.

“Because of the plant closure there’s quite a bit of delay in delivery of the ‘17 crop. So, it’s discouraged quite a few guys from growing more (sunflowers),” said Ben Friesen, senior market manager for Scoular Canada.

In February, PepsiCo announced it would close its Spitz sunflower seed processing plant in Bow Island, Alta., later this year.

The company said it would continue to buy confectionary sunflowers in Canada, but the closure has delayed deliveries and many farmers have had to hold onto last year’s crop.

“(PepsiCo are) still buying, will continue to buy, but they’re going to be diverting it to different processing facilities in the U.S. It’s going to be a year where it’s probably caused a bit of confusion and a bit of a downturn on the confection side of sunflowers,” Friesen said.

In Statistics Canada’s principal field crop areas report released last month, the agency predicted a 30.8 percent drop in Canadian sunflower acres (the majority of acres are grown in Manitoba). From information gathered in surveys completed in March, StatsCan predicted acreage would drop to 45,000 acres from 65,000 acres.

The prediction doesn’t surprise Friesen. Due to the Bow Island plant closure and what he has heard from producers, he expects confection sunflower acreage to drop. However, the plant closure isn’t affecting oilseed sunflowers, so he doesn’t expect to see an acreage drop for those.

Officials at the National Sunflower Association of Canada are more optimistic and predict acreage to stay flat at around 65,000 acres.

“It’s still a little bit early to tell just because we’re in the midst of planting and with the dry weather that could also potentially change some growers’ thoughts on sunflowers,” said Darcelle Graham, executive director of the sunflower association.

According to Graham, sunflower planting started the second week in May in Manitoba and is on schedule. Sunflowers do well in a drier climate but, like most crops, require timely rains.

Graham and Friesen are hopeful that next year could see a rebound in sunflower acreage. Last year acreage dropped by 7.1 percent, after there had been large carryover stocks from previous years, which held producers back from planting sunflowers.

“I know that supply is starting to dwindle, so we’re hoping this year with flat acres that we’ll see increased acres next year,” Graham said.

Sunflowers still give producers a good payout and Friesen hopes producers will return to the crop next year.

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