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Marketing Opportunities Remain Strong for Sunflower

John Sandbakken headshot
John Sandbakken
National Sunflower Association Executive Director

For sunflowers, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 greatly reduced projected harvest volumes, causing global markets to heat up quickly. “Prices shot up for all commodities,” explains John Sandbakken, Executive Director of the National Sunflower Association. “The price of sunflower seed went up to $43/hundredweight (cwt).”

While things have since returned to normal, the sky-high prices being offered early in 2022 prompted many U.S. growers to plant sunflowers, which increased acreage substantially. “However, we also had a snowstorm in April in the Northern Plains,” says Sandbakken, “which prevented planting of other crops and some producers switched to sunflowers. Overall, acreage went up 30% over the previous year.”

Sunflower profits in 2022 were also bolstered by the fact that it was a perfect growing year in the U.S. Yield in pounds per acre was the second-highest on record, so high that stocks carried over well into 2023. Growing conditions in 2023 were also good, particularly good in North Dakota and Minnesota. In these states, record yields were seen and at least one grower in Minnesota reached 4,000 pounds per acre.

Overall acreage was down 20% in 2023 compared to 2022, but that’s still up 10% from 2021. Sandbakken notes that, “a lot of growers planted sunflowers in 2023 because they did well with them in 2022. Yield projection was down somewhat compared to 2022 as of early November 2023 when there was 50% harvested, but we’ll see when it’s all in the bin.”

The crop quality was also excellent in 2023 with very high seed oil percentage achieved. “We always promote sunflowers by pointing out it’s the only commodity that pays a premium by oil content,” says Sandbakken. “Anything over 40% earns a price premium. Oil content has been increasing the last three years in particular due to agronomic research and new hybrids.”

Addressing Multiple Market Needs
Demand for sunflower oil has shown excellent growth over the last seven years, with use by the North American food industry up by almost 70% over that period. Food product firms increasingly prefer sunflower oil because it performs well in various manufacturing processes, its non-GMO status provides a ‘clean’ label, and it’s healthy, with both high-oleic and NuSun®
mid-oleic oil profiles available.

Sunflower oil has also made inroads in food processing due to shifts in soybean and canola oil use. While these oils remain the biggest competitors facing sunflower oil, there has been a global increase in using soybean and canola to make renewable fuels.

The National Sunflower Association has also completed extensive yearly promotional campaigns for sunflower oil with food processors in the U.S. and Canada, which keeps it top-of-mind.

A consumer ad campaign is also run yearly by the association, focused on boosting ‘confection’ snack consumption.

“We are seeing growth in the domestic confection market every year, especially in-shell,” Sandbakken says. “Exports are also still strong to Canada, Spain and Mexico but there has been competition in Mexico and Spain, so there’s been a focus on Canadian and U.S. markets. And while the demand for bird seed is not as high as the extreme demand during the pandemic, it’s still very good.”

Looking ahead to 2024, Sandbakken expects continued slow but steady growth in demand in oil and confection markets. He says a 20- 25% increase in acres will be required just to keep up with oil demand, and another 10- 20% increase will be needed for the growing confection market.


Navigating Global Headwinds:
The Resilience of International Sunflower Crop Markets

By: Patrick Dietrich

In the face of global challenges throughout 2023, the international sunflower crop markets have demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability. Factors such as product de-registration, delayed purchasing, and drought conditions have presented hurdles, yet progress in key growth initiatives remains evident. As the industry confronts challenges, a commitment to addressing global issues, including food sustainability, fuel transition, and climate change, remains unwavering.

Navigating Global Headwinds: The Resilience of International Sunflower Crop Markets By: Patrick Dietrich One notable trend is the substantial growth
observed in South Western/Central Europe, the U.S. and South America, effectively compensating for reduced volumes in Eastern Europe. This shift underscores the dynamic nature of the sunflower crop market, with regions responding differently to the multifaceted challenges presented.

A pivotal aspect of the industry’s response lies in the dedication to sustainable research and development solutions and cutting edge technology. This commitment not only empowers farmers but also resonates across the entire supply chain, benefiting channel partners and end-use customers alike.

Highlighting the industry’s proactive stance, a strong pipeline of new products, coupled with the recent acquisition of Syngenta genetics, has fortified the Nuseed South America portfolio. This strategic move ensures a robust and diversified product offering, further cementing the industry’s resilience and ability to navigate the complexities of the international sunflower crop markets.