High prices and low input costs have farmers planning to increase specialty crop acreage

Acreage of specialty crops, including canola, flax and sunflowers, is expected to grow this year.

Blooming sunflowers
Sunflowers are among the specialty crops that are expected to increase in acreage in 2022. This photo was taken on Aug. 21, 2013, near Turtle Lake, North Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek file photo

High prices and relatively low input cost have made specialty crops an attractive alternative to conventional crops this growing season.

Canola acreage in North Dakota, which grows 85% of the United States' production, was estimated at 1.76 million, a record number, in USDA’s March 31 planting intentions report.

The September 2022 bid at canola crush plants in North Dakota, Manitoba and Minnesota on April 25, 2022, ranged from $37.02 to $38.15 per hundredweight, which also was a record.

Canola acreage in North Dakota in 2022 is expected to be a record. The state grows the vast majority of the U.S.'s canola.
Nick Nelson / Agweek file photo

Tight supplies of canola have driven up prices, said Barry Coleman, Northern Canola Association executive director.

“The price is telling people that they need to replace supplies. Even with normal acreage in Canada and North Dakota and normal yields, we will still end up with tight stocks,” Coleman said. “There’s no room for hiccups this year.


“I've never seen prices like this in my entire career,” he said.

The canola acreage increase is more likely the result of veteran canola farmers increasing their acreage than it is new growers planting the crop, Coleman said.

Meanwhile, North Dakota acreage of flax, another oilseeds specialty crop, also is expected to jump 32% to 250,000 this year over last year in North Dakota, the No. 1 producer in the United States.

Flooded field
Flax acreage is expected to jump 32% in North Dakota in 2022.
Agweek file photo

Flax prices, like canola prices, are strong, said Coleman, also director of AmeriFlax, the commodity’s trade organization representing flax producers.

In late February 2022, USDA announced that it would increase the additional price election for flax to $17.75 per bushel, a 38% increase over the established price the agency originally announced in December 2021. The price change was made to reflect the rise in flax prices between spring 2021 and post-harvest when it became apparent drought had reduced production.

Coleman was surprised to see the large increase in North Dakota flax acres this spring because it had appeared that seed was in short supply.

“Possibly more growers found more seed in the bin,” Coleman said.

He hopes that USDA’s flax acreage estimate is on target.


“We’re keeping our fingers crossed because we definitely need the specialty crop acres for flax to rebound,” Coleman said.

The majority of flax production is used for industrial purposes such as linseed oil, but the amount for use in cattle feed, pet food, and for human consumption is increasing, he said.

Oilseed sunflowers are another specialty crop that are expected to see a major acreage increase in North Dakota this year, according to USDA. The agency estimates that oil sunflower varieties will be planted on 540,000 acres, a 17% increase over 2021.

In South Dakota, the No. 2 sunflower producer in the United States, oilseed sunflower acres are estimated at 480,000, a 1% decrease from 2021 and in Minnesota, acreage is expected to increase to 60,000 acres, a 6,000 acres increase over 2021.

Sunflower new-crop prices of $34 per hundredweight are $4 more than the previous record new-crop high, said John Sandbakken, National Sunflower Association executive director.

“With the situation in Ukraine , there’s a huge demand for sunflower oil in the world,” Sandbakken said.

North Dakota accounted for 45% of the United States’ sunflower production in 2020 and is the No. 1 producer in the United States so it was the most likely state to increase production this year, he said.

Sandbakken believes oilseed sunflower acreage increases could be even higher than USDA’s estimate because the drought has eased since the agency surveyed farmers in early March for the planting intentions report.


“Potentially we could get more acres,” he said. “The increase definitely would be a good thing. There’s plenty of room to add acreage this year. There won't be a situation where we would sit on a big stockpile.”

The increase in acres will be the result of longtime growers adding acres and others whose grandparents planted them adding it back into their crop rotations, Sandbakken predicted.

Sunflowers can be planted later than many crops, which also will make them an alternative if soil conditions don’t dry this spring in time to plant other crops that farmers had intended to raise.

“You can easily plant into June," Sandbakken said.

Besides oilseeds, acreage of other specialty crops, such as pulses, dry edible beans and oats are expected to either stay fairly steady or increase slightly.

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Pinto bean acreage in Minnesota is expected to go up more than 25,000 acres in 2022.
Agweek file photo

Pinto bean acreage in North Dakota for example, is estimated to increase by 25,039 and in Minnesota drop by 2,400, for a combined net increase of 22,639 acres in the two states.

Meanwhile, black bean, navy bean, dark red kidney bean, and light red kidney bean acreage in North Dakota are expected to slightly decline, according to the USDA March 2022 planting intentions report.

Despite the acreage reduction in black, navy and dark red kidney beans, overall North Dakota and Minnesota dry bean acreage will be 850,000. That acreage should produce an adequate amount of edible beans to cover domestic demand, which is about 80% of the crops’ usage, said Mitch Coulter, Northarvest Bean Growers Association executive director.


Prices for all classes of dry edible beans are strong, which typically is the case when commodity prices for crops such as soybeans, wheat and corn are high, Coulter said.

“If conventional cropping systems are doing well, we are doing well, too,” he said.

Oats acreage, which sharply has dropped over the past few decades to a level that is so low it is considered a specialty crop, is another crop that USDA estimates will increase this year in South Dakota and North Dakota.

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South Dakota farmers are expected to grow 12% more oats in 2022 than in 2021, while North Dakota farmers plan to plant 10% more.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek file photo

South Dakota acreage is pegged at 240,000, a 12% increase over last year, while North Dakota farmers are expected to plant 390,000 acres, 10% more than last year, USDA estimated.

Most of the oats grown in South Dakota are used for livestock feed, said Jack Davis, South Dakota State University Extension fields crops specialist in Mitchell.

Oats acres have made a comeback because it is less expensive to grow than wheat and can be used as both a forage or grain crop, he said. Meanwhile, prices are relatively high.

The additional price election for oats was $3.70 per bushel, $0.40 over the established price USDA announced late last year.

North Dakota dry edible pea and lentil acres also are expected to have large acreage increases this year, USDA estimates. Dry edible pea acres are expected to rise by 33% to 340,000 and lentils by 17% to 140,000.


Those pulse acreage increases, like all of the specialty and traditional crops, will depend on moisture and ground temperature at planting time.

The actual amount of pulse acreage will become clearer as the spring planting season progresses, said Erin Becker, Northern Pulse Growers Association marketing and communications specialist.

“We want to survey our growers over the growing season,” she said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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