U.S. demand creates sunflower opportunity

American stocks are low because of increased demand, but prairie growers aren’t expected to increase acres by much

Consumers and food companies want more sunflower oil.

Demand for the product is booming, especially in the United States because the food industry has moved away from unhealthy fats.

Food processors have changed or are changing their product formulations, and their preferred option is often sunflower oil.

“Domestically is probably the greatest area we’ve seen (an) increase (in demand),” said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association in the U.S.

Because of strong demand, stocks of oilseed sunflowers are relatively low in North and South Dakota. Those states produce more than 80 percent of the sunflowers grown in the U.S.

“(At) the beginning of this market year (U.S.) stocks were down about 42 percent from the previous year,” Sandbakken said from his office in Mandan, N.D.

“(With) the usage rate we’re seeing right now, come September we’re going to be pretty tight, so the market is definitely going to be needing seed from this year’s crop.”

It’s very early in the growing season, but American farmers probably won’t produce enough sunflowers in 2019 to replenish those stocks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecasted acreage of 1.2 million for oilseed sunflowers, up only three percent from 2018.

The sunflower industry was expecting a larger increase than three percent, Sandbakken said.

Processors and crushers were hoping for a 10 to 15 percent jump in acres.

The situation is ripe for Canadian growers to step in and produce more sunflowers to satisfy demand south of the border.

As of early June, that outcome looks doubtful.

Acres in Manitoba, where the majority of Canada’s sunflowers are grown, will likely be flat.

Manitoba farmers seeded 49,000 acres of sunflowers last year, based on crop insurance numbers. About 32,000 acres were oil sunflowers and 17,000 acres were confectionary.

Darcelle Graham, executive director of the National Sunflower Association of Canada, won’t have final numbers for several weeks, but she expects Manitoba acres will be similar to 2018.

“I know there was some interest this year in sunflowers, just because of the trade issues going on with other crops,” she said.

“But we did have some challenges getting seed.”

Most of the sunflower seed planted in Manitoba comes from the U.S., and seed deliveries arrived later than usual this year.

While Manitoba acreage is flat, Saskatchewan farmers may plant more sunflowers this year.

Statistics Canada estimated earlier this year that Saskatchewan acres would jump to 21,000, up from 6,000 in 2018.

There are other positive signs for sunflowers in Canada.

CHS, a major U.S. co-operative, contracted acres of sunflowers in Manitoba for the first time this year, Graham said.

As well, a Manitoba company began crushing sunflowers in 2017.

Melo’s Finest in Beausejour, Man., cold presses canola, soybean and sunflowers to produce vegetable oil.

Confectionary sunflowers once occupied the majority of acres in Manitoba, and oilseed sunflowers were the secondary crop.

That configuration has shifted.

Manitoba growers are planting oilseed sunflowers because of continued demand in the bird food market and the opportunities in sunflower oil.

“Our challenges with confecs started when they couldn’t ship into certain countries, (in) the Middle East, with the (wars),” Graham said.

“That (market) really hasn’t come back.”

Most of the sunflowers grown in Manitoba this summer will be the oilseed variety.

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