Sunflowers may be poised for comeback

Prices and buyer interest may make it seem like a reasonable choice for farmers, who could plant 225,000 acres this year

Sunflowers might be getting their mojo back after years of farmers throwing in the towel on the old crop.

With expected profitability on the eastern Prairies equalling competing crops in 2020, Scoular’s Robert Deraas expects to see more farmers look at the crop again.

“It’s going to turn around dramatically,” said Deraas about North American acreage, which has fallen from more than 700,000 acres at one time to just about 150,000 last year, following a host of challenges that chased away producer interest.

This year, he expects to see acres rebound to 200,000-225,000, as prices and buyer interest make it seem like a reasonable choice to American and Canadian farmers.

While the crop saw steady acreage losses since the late 2000s, overseas it has been a different story, with both acreage and demand booming.

“Carryout stocks are coming down,” said Deraas.

“Record years of production and stocks are coming down. If you’re in the sunflower business, that’s music.”

The overseas demand is coming partly from consumers more interested in food quality.

“It’s healthier choices,” he said about consumption in China, India and other developing markets.

“That should continue to get better.”

North American sunflower growers were happy through most of the 2000s as demand for sunflower oil’s healthy profile made it easy to sell, with good returns most years.

But then challenges hit with bird predation, the onslaught of soybeans and corn, disease and bad harvests.

Canadian farmers tended to favour confectionary sunflowers, while oilseed sunflowers took over American acreage, but that oilseed trend has continued in recent years on the reduced acreage.

But Deraas thinks both confectionary types and oilseed sunflowers will find interested buyers this year. Some buyers had to import sunflowers this year and that won’t last.

“It’s not part of their strategic plan in the future,” said Deraas, predicting buyers will offer prices good enough to entice farmers to push acres back above the 200,000 acres level.

“If it’s important to us, it has to change.”

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