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American growers embrace sunflower production

Sunflower acreage in North and South Dakota is expected to be higher than last month’s official government estimate.  |  File photo

Yields were solid last fall, prices are up this spring and North Dakota growers are feeling fine about sunflowers.

In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said sunflower acres this year in North and South Dakota, the two states that dominate American production, will be similar to 2017.

John Sandbakken, U.S. National Sunflower Association executive director, isn’t buying the USDA estimate.

“I think acres are going to be higher here,” he said from his office in Mandan, N.D.

“We’re going to have a later spring, and sunflowers are a later planted crop.”

Growers in the Dakotas are feeling more positive about sunflowers because yields were above average in 2017, despite drought conditions in the region.

“If you look at the U.S. crop … we had the third highest yield on record last year.”

As well, new crop prices for oilseed sunflowers were around $18.70 per hundredweight in early April, about $2 per cwt. higher than April 2017, Sandbakken said.

North Dakota growers may be feeling warm and fuzzy about sunflowers, but the situation isn’t as positive in Manitoba.

“I wish there was a little more excitement,” said Ben Friesen, purchasing manager for Scoular, a global company that operates a sunflower and bird food processing plant in Winkler, Man.

Earlier this year, PepsiCo announced the closure of its Spitz sunflower seed processing plant in Bow Island, Alta.

That decision will affect confectionary sunflower seed growers in Manitoba, where most of Canada’s sunflowers are grown.

“That’s (had) some ramifications right through the industry,” Friesen said.

Manitoba had about 61,000 acres of sunflowers in 2017 with 34,000 acres in oil sunflowers and 27,000 in confectionary, based on Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. data.

Friesen said there would be adjustments in the confectionary side of the market because of the Spitz closure, but oil sunflowers are more settled.

“I think it’s a good, stable market right now. If you pencil it out on crop sheets, it’s definitely one of the profitable crops.”

Manitoba Agriculture ranked oilseed sunflowers as the seventh most profitable crop in the province in its 2018 guide for crop production costs. Confectionary sunflowers ranked eighth.

Pinto beans were number one and barley was ranked at the bottom.

New crop contracts for sunflowers in Canada are 22 to 24 cents per lb. for oil sunflowers and 31 to 34 cents per lb. for confectionary.

Manitoba growers of oil sunflowers sell their crop into the bird food market or to crushing plants in North Dakota.

Marc Audet, business development manager for Delmar Commodities, said demand for oil sunflowers in the bird food market has been steady.

Demand for sunflower oil is strong and is expected get stronger.

Technavio, a market research firm, has predicted that global demand for sunflower oil will grow by 4.7 percent annually from 2017-21. The strong demand is helping support prices for oilseed sunflowers in North Dakota.

“(Compared) to where we were last year at this time, we’re about US$2.50 (per cwt.) higher than we were last year,” Sandbakken said. “That’s a positive trend. Not a lot of crops are in that position.”

Early estimates suggest sunflower acreage in Manitoba will likely be similar to 2017.

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