Lower yields discourage sunflower acres

Article repurposed from http://www.producer.com/2016/02/lower-yields-discourage-sunflower-acres/

Acres are expected to be ‘down just a touch’ in Manitoba this year, despite strong prices for the oilseed

Canadian sunflower acres will likely be down or flat this year.

Prices are strong, but yields dipped last year in Manitoba, and producers are choosing to grow easier crops such as soybeans.

“I think acres will be down just a touch,” said Troy Turner, an agronomist with the National Sunflower Association of Canada, following the group’s 25-minute annual meeting in Winnipeg Feb. 10.

Thirty-five to 40 people attended the meeting, demonstrating the decline in the number of sunflower growers in Manitoba over the last decade.

Manitoba farmers grew 180,000 acres of sunflowers as recently as 2008. Seeded area has ranged from 70,000 to 95,000 since 2012.

Wet years in 2009-11 turned many farmers off sunflowers because sclerotinia levels were up and yields were poor. With soybeans closing in on 1.5 million acres in Manitoba, it’s difficult to fit another crop into the rotation that’s susceptible to sclerotinia, such as sunflowers.

“Confec sunflowers always (require) a little extra attention. They (farmers) are looking at easier crops,” said Ben Friesen, purchasing manager for special crops with Scoular, which operates a processing plant in Winkler, Man.

Manitoba Agriculture estimates indicate that growers can make money from sunflowers. It ranks confectionary sunflowers number four out of 17 crops for profitability.

New crop prices in Canada are comparable to last year: confectionaries are around 28 cents per lb. and black oils are 24 cents.

“Those are pretty good prices,” Friesen said.

“You can still make a pretty good dollar off that.”

However, record U.S. production is weighing on the market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in January that 2015 sunflower production was 32 percent higher than 2014. Harvested area was 1.8 million acres, up 19 percent. Yield also jumped by 19 percent compared to 2014.

Consequently, prices for new crop sunflowers have dropped in North Dakota, and black oils are now trading around US17 cents per pound.

Friesen said the large U.S. crop may be affecting the psychology of Manitoba growers.

“The word gets up here: there’s too many sunflowers,” he said.

“Then guys say, ‘oh, maybe I shouldn’t grow sunflowers.’ ”

The Middle East is traditionally a strong market for Canadian sunflowers, but demand is down because of the civil war in Syria and the battle with ISIS in the region. However, processors such as Scoular are finding other buyers for sunflowers.

“We’re moving as much as we always do. We’ve found our domestic markets, and our plants are going full production,” Friesen said.

“So we’re hoping to get the same amount (from Manitoba) as we did in the past year.”