Global sunflower seed production is steadily growing, the crop in the current marketing year is forecast to produce around 54 million metric tonnes.
This accounts for around 10% of crude vegetable oil production, making it the third most important oilseed crop after soybeans and rapeseed.
Ukraine, Russia, the European Union, and Argentina are the major seed producing countries, with Ukraine and Russia accounting for over half of the world sunflower seeds and nearly 60% of oil production.
Uses of sunflower seed
The largest market segment for sunflower is the extraction of oil by crushing the seed.
The oil is then used in the food industry, either as an ingredient to manufacture semi-finished or final food products, or it is bottled as a final product.
Sunflower oil can be further segmented into commodity oils which are traded at high volumes and low prices; and speciality oils traded at low volumes and high prices, such as premium and certified products like organic and fair trade.
Sunflower oil is extracted by three different methods; cold-press; hot-press; and refined sunflower oil.
There is a small but increasing number of artisanal processors producing on-farm cold-pressed oils, marketed as a high-value product, often as organic and in conjunction with other oils and flours.
Sunflower oil containing high levels of oleic acid is preferred by the food industry as the oil is naturally stable.
The meal left behind after the oil is extracted is a rich source of protein and is an excellent livestock feed, especially for ruminants.
Compared to soybean, sunflower meal contains lower energy and the amino acid lysine, but higher fibre and methionine.
The separated shell of the seed, or hulls, are high in fibre and low in protein and as such have low commercial feed value, so they are often burned as a source of heat for the crushing plant.
For every 100 kilograms of sunflower seed crushed, the processor gets around 40 kilograms of oil, 35 kilograms of high-protein meal and 25 kilograms of by-products.
The demand for sunflower oil is increasing year-on-year, mainly as a result of rising health awareness and an appreciation of the benefits of sunflower oil.
Sunflower oil is rich in vitamins A and E, linoleic and mono-saturated fats which help in controlling cholesterol levels.
Additionally, high-oleic sunflower oils have been modified to be richer in oleic acid, and food manufacturers are turning to high-oleic sunflower oils as a replacement for unhealthy trans fats.
Light in colour and neutral in flavour, sunflower oil is a good all-purpose oil because it can withstand high cooking temperatures.
Sunflower seed oil is one of the healthiest vegetable oils available for cooking.
Sunflowers seeds can also be consumed directly or with minimal processing, and these are called confection sunflowers.
While sunflower oil and meal are processed from the same sunflower varieties, confection seeds have their own characteristics for their specific purposes.
Generally, confection seeds are striped, larger than the oil-type, with a lower oil percentage and are divided into three categories.
These are the largest seeds, more than 1.2cm in length, with kernel consisting of half the weight and a heavy black and white striped shell, sold in-shell for snacking.
Most are roasted, sometimes seasoned with salt, and recent developments include the introduction of flavours such as barbeque, and sour cream and onion.
These are medium-sized seeds that have been mechanically hulled, with the kernel consumed either as a snack or as a food ingredient in bakery products.
They feature widely in health products and healthy snacks, can be added to salads, eaten directly or ground up to a fine flour and used as a gluten-free flour alternative that is low in carbohydrates and contains no nuts.
These are the smallest seeds sold for birdfeed or used in pet food.
The global bird food market can be divided into caged birds, wild birds, pigeons (particularly racing pigeons), and the emerging cover crop market that is grown for hunting or wildlife habitat creation.
Although there is no precise information on the planting areas of confection varieties, it is anticipated that confection hybrids will increasingly replace conventional varieties as growers look to break into new markets.
Compared to the oil crop, growing confection sunflowers is more involved, selecting the appropriate variety for your chosen market is a key starting point, fortunately, Nuseed has a range of hybrid confection varieties readily available [link to products]
Demand for high oleic sunflower oil is increasing in Europe, but supplies remain tight, this points toward future opportunities for exporters from other countries.
What does the future hold for Sunflowers?
There are a number of issues that may influence the future use of sunflower, here are a few key points:
|The healthy nature of sunflower oil will likely see more food producers take it up as they change their products to satisfy the demands of a more health-conscious consumer.
Conventional sunflower oil seed contains 65% linoleic acid and 20% oleic acid, plant breeders have bred commercially available sunflower varieties with 60% to 90% oleic acid.
This has opened up opportunities for high oleic sunflower oil in stabilising food, increasing the shelf life of products, and as a healthy ingredient.
West European countries are switching to high-oleic sunflower oil, and growers are choosing high-oleic varieties to take advantage of this market opportunity.
|An increase in celiac disease has led to strong growth in the gluten-free market, sunflower flour can be used as a gluten-free alternative.
Sunflower butter as a substitute for peanut butter in situations where peanut allergy is of concern.
Hulls, mixed with glue, moulded into cylinders can be burnt for heating, often with only minor modifications to existing boilers.
|Due to the high risk of gene flow from cultivated to wild sunflower, it is unlikely sunflowers will ever receive clearance to allow the production of GMO varieties.