Sunflower acres expected to jump

Sunflower prices spiked this winter and spring, which should draw out more acres in Manitoba and the Dakotas.

In the third week of April, contracts for oil sunflowers were around US$17-18 per hundredweight. That translates to C$24-26 per cwt., a price that could be financially lucrative.

A 2,000 pound per acre sunflower crop would generate $500 per acre.

That’s why acres are poised to climb in Manitoba and south of the border.

In 2019, Manitoba farmers seeded about 65,000 acres.

“We’re hoping for an increase,” said Darcelle Graham, National Sunflower Association of Canada executive director. “We’ve been told a 25 percent increase in sunflower acres, which would be nice. But we won’t know until growers get into the field.”

In North Dakota and South Dakota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts acreage of about 1.2 million for both states.

That’s up from 1.06 million acres in 2019. The data is for oil and confectionary sunflowers, but more than 90 percent of U.S. acres are oilseed.

This spring has seen a substantial gap between old crop sunflowers and new crop prices.

As of April 21, old crop was at US$19.25 and new crop was around $17.25 in North Dakota.

Poor weather last fall put the brakes on harvest and created a shortfall.

“The harvest was horrible,” said Marc Audet, director of special crops with Delmar Commodities in Winkler, Man. “I think they’re done now, but a month ago they were still harvesting…. The U.S., in March and April, harvested over 200,000 acres.”

As well, acreage was down in 2019, so supply is tight for old crop sunflowers in North America.

The other factor is demand.

Buyers have been purchasing more sunflower oil, partly because of COVID-19.

“Most of our oil, in the U.S. and Canada, is used for making processed foods,” said John Sandbakken, U.S. National Sunflower Association executive director.

With consumers eating at home, they’re eating more cookies, crackers and chips that are made with sunflower oil.

The combination of increased demand and production challenges has pushed sunflowers to the highest prices since 2016. Prices for oil sunflowers, new crop, are about US$2-$2.25 per cwt. higher than last year. That’s a jump of around $3 per cwt. in Canadian funds.

While harvest conditions were challenging, most Manitoba growers were able to combine their sunflowers last fall or during the winter, Graham said.

Producers should feel positive about the crop and the pricing opportunity, which could encourage more acres.

Manitoba has traditionally produced oil and confectionary sunflowers. Oilseed will dominate production in 2020, Graham said.

“We’re seeing more buyers in the industry, especially here in Manitoba, so that’s always an optimistic (sign),” she added.

Audet is still contracting production for 2020, but Delmar only buys oilseed sunflowers.

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