Sunflower yields, oil content are high

Clark Coleman has raised sunflowers for many years. But there have been only a few years in which the Baldwin, N.D., farmer has been as happy with the crop as he is this fall.

Sunflowers this year have oil content that exceeds processor demand by 40 percent. Photo: Nick Nelson, Agweek

Clark Coleman has raised sunflowers for many years. But there have been only a few years in which the Baldwin, N.D., farmer has been as happy with the crop as he is this fall.

“I’m sure glad I had them,” Coleman says, noting that he typically plants roughly the same number of acres to sunflowers every year. “I wouldn’t have minded having some more,”

Coleman isn’t alone in his appreciation for sunflowers this fall. Farmers across the Upper Midwest generally are enjoying one of their best production years for the crop.

“There are a lot of smiles on the faces of growers,” thanks to record and near-record yields and high oil content that give producers a premium price, says John Sandbakken, executive director of the Mandan, N.D.-based National Sunflower Association.

The Upper Midwest dominates U.S. sunflower production - North Dakota ranks first, South Dakota second - and the warm, dry fall has allowed producers in the region to make unusually rapid harvest progress.


Thirty-one percent of North Dakota’s crop was harvested by the middle of October, compared with 10 percent at the same time last year and the five-year average of 26 percent. A hard mid-

October freeze will further boost the harvest pace.

By all accounts, yields are good. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the national yield at a record 1,629 pounds per acre, which would be 160 pounds higher than a year ago. Yields in the Dakotas and Minnesota are pegged at 110 to 250 pounds per acre higher than a year ago.

Coleman estimates his crop will average a ton or better per acre.

Many sunflower producers sold 1,000 to 1,500 pounds per acre in advance of harvest, so yields above that give farmers additional seeds to sell, Sandbakken says.

Sunflowers’ deep taproot helped them tolerate dry conditions in August better than most other crops grown in the region, he says.

Oil premium


Many sunflowers this year have an oil content of 45 to 47 percent, well above the 40 percent that processors demand. Growers receive a 2 percent price premium for each 1 percent over the 40 percent minimum, so sunflowers with 45 percent oil content receive a 10 percent premium, Sandbakken says.

With a 10 percent premium, “A grower who contracted for $20 (per hundredweight) gets a $2 premium on top of that,” he says.

Good yields this year are especially important to the sunflower industry because the 2014 crop was smaller than usual, Sandbakken says. Sunflower stocks were low and “we need to have some cushion.”

Many farmers are expressing interest in growing the crop in 2016, he says.

“It’s always encouraging when you’re in the middle of harvest and people are already looking forward to next year,” he says.

Related Topics: CROPS
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