With five market classes, growers have many marketing options for this bright crop. While they are generalized into two larger categories – oilseed and non-oilseed – their end uses are far more varied. Let’s break them down.
Approximately 75% of sunflowers grown in the U.S. are utilized for the oil that can be extracted from the seeds. Sunflower oil is naturally made up of a combination of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and low levels of saturated fat. Oil sunflowers are generally classified based on their oleic (monounsaturated fat) content.
Primary categories of commercially available hybrid seeds:
NuSun: Oleic levels of 55-75%
High-oleic: Oleic levels greater than 85% (common minimum crush requirement)
With a thicker hull than oilseed sunflowers, confection sunflower seed is typically larger, longer and lighter in test weight. They are planted at a lower population in the field to grow longer more plump seeds. The largest of the seeds get sold to the in-shell market, like what you eat at baseball games, while the smaller seeds are utilized in the dehull market.
Click for video of Alison Pokrzywinski, Nuseed Sunflower Product Manager, explaining the differences between the many sunflower market options.
A cross between oilseed and confection varieties, conoils have excellent market versatility being used primarily for dehull but also for oil, confection, or bird food, depending on processor requirements. This seed type is generally higher in oil content than confection seeds and realizes greater yields.
Generally medium sized seeds, the dehull market requires processors to mechanically remove the hull and separate the kernel. The separated kernels are consumed as a snack or food ingredient with some product also going to the bird food market. While varieties are bred specifically for the dehull market, other classes can also be used for the dehull market.
Each year several hundred thousand acres of sunflowers are grown specifically for birdseed. In the U.S., the birdseed business is a multi-billion dollar industry. Oil type sunflower seeds, not crushed for oil, are often sold into high quality bird food markets but confection, dehull and conoil also supply this class. Bird food market varieties are often the smallest seeds.