Sunflower seed market falls back to Earth

MarketsFarm — Sunflower growers in Canada took off a bumper crop in 2020, almost hitting the 100,000-tonne mark for the first time since 2010.

The forecast for this year’s crop isn’t as sunny.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s latest outlook, released earlier this month, predicts the national sunflower seed crop in 2021 at 75,000 tonnes off 86,500 acres — both marks closer to 2019 levels (63,000 tonnes from 76,600 acres).

Robert Deraas, the Minnesota-based general manager for Scoular’s sunflower and bird food business at Winkler, Man., said the increase in seeding in 2020 was driven by strong demand and higher prices. However, growers may be inclined to seed for other crops this year.

“There’s much more crop competition than last year (from) all major and specialty crops. It’s made it more difficult, more competitive for sunflowers in this marketplace,” he explained.

Sunflowers can provide benefits for growers, he said, such as variety, a later harvest than other crops and relative market stability — and right now, the market for sunflower seeds remains strong.

“This year, the U.S. and Canadian growers have produced a wonderful (black oil sunflower) crop and there are some shortfalls in other areas around the world. So this created strong worldwide demand and that’s left us with a very strong market,” he said.

“In confection sunflowers, COVID has had a negative effect on the consumption of in-shell snacking and decreased the overall demand… (but) sunflower demand for bird feeding, both black oil and confection, is very strong.”

The price of sunflower seeds, he said, has increased by at least 10 per cent since last year’s harvest. He believes drier weather could convince more farmers to include sunflowers in their harvest, but to stay competitive on the markets, the crop needs to keep up its value against others.

“We’ll need to stay strong and competitive because of all the strong market prices for competing crops. The demand is very stable and not subject so much to the highs and lows of world price fluctuations,” he said.

“We fully expect acres will go down in 2021 and the price will be at or near 2020 levels.”

— Adam Peleshaty reports for MarketsFarm from Stonewall, Man.

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