While COVID-19 has had a negative effect on many things, bird food demand is not one of them. “Over the past few years, the bird food market has been steadily declining,” says Alison Pokrzywinski, a technical agronomist and Nuseed Sunflower Product Manager, North America. “Some of the reasons for this have included an aging population, mild winters in the Northeast and other interests taking over people’s time in an age of technology.”
Sandbakken echoes the sentiment, noting that in 2019, the sunflower market for bird seed was probably lower than it had been for years, following a long-term decline. However, the pandemic changed everything. Since families across the globe have found themselves spending a huge amount of time at home since March 2020, a new interest was sparked (or has been re-ignited) across all generations in families to attract birds to backyards and porches.
Pokrzywinski notes that in some years as bird food supply starts to dwindle before sunflower harvest starts, bird food prices can spike for short amounts of time, but 2020 was different. “There were sustained price spikes as bird food sales increased,” she says. “While the typical pricing of summer 2020 would have been around $18-$19/cwt, some bird food buyers were offering growers as high as $35/cwt to meet consumer demand.”
Sandbakken agrees that due to the pandemic, demand has been incredibly strong. “It’s like the glory days,” he says. “It’s been phenomenal to see the demand this past year.” Looking ahead, Pokrzywinski thinks growers should realize the opportunities in 2022 for bird food contracts that are there for the taking. “The demand does not appear to be dwindling,” she notes.
Louise Carduner, Originator for Sunflower and Birdfood Division of Scoular Canada (a grain and oilseed company based in Manitoba, Canada), notes that she and her colleagues were actively encouraging growers to plant black oil sunflowers for birdseed in 2021. The company buys both confection and black oil sunflower seed from Manitoba growers, who produce the vast majority of sunflowers in Canada. In June 2020, Scoular relocated its Winnipeg bird food operations to its bird food manufacturing facility in Winkler Manitoba, an expansion that created six additional jobs.
Looking forward, Pokrzywinski hopes that after life returns to normal, or into a new normal at least, “the popularity of feeding the backyard birds will continue among the young and old.”