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Invasion Drives Sunflower Demand Here and at Home

If there’s one thing that continues to shape the North American sunflower market, it’s the conflict in Ukraine.

Since it began, North America’s sunflower market continued to see growth because of the increased demand for sunflowers grown here, says John Sandbakken, Executive Director of the
National Sunflower Association.

“Ukraine’s sunflower crop in 2022 was considerably lower than it was for their long-term average. That’s going to flow into 2023,” he says.

Sandbakken said the invasion brought customers back to both the U.S. and Canada who were buying from overseas. “The benefits of securing sources close to home have really become apparent since those unfortunate events began.”

Ukraine’s sunflower crop was severely affected by the invasion, down over 40% in 2022 compared to the year prior, according to data from Ukraine’s Ministry of Agrarian Policy and State Statistics.

According to Sandbakken, the stability offered by the North American sunflower industry is a boon to producers here.

“If you’re going to be a player in the North American market, you have to have consistent supply and availability. The way we do that is by having acreage. And in order to get those, our prices have to be competitive with other crops,” he says.

In the last five years, sunflower oil consumption in North America has increased by 67%, an upward trend that doesn’t seem to be abating as far as the food market is concerned.

“When I look at where demand is for these products, whether it be oil or confections, we can easily add another 10% to 15% on top of those acres in 2023 just to keep the supply
chain satisfied,” he says.

And there are new uses for sunflower that are only serving to bolster demand even more.

“The global renewable diesel movement, especially here in North America, is going to be the biggest player in shaping the future of sunflower. If all these renewable diesel plants go online in the next few years like it is forecasted, the amount of feedstock that’s going to be needed is incredible,” he says.

“There’s just not enough oil right now — be it canola or soybean oil — to fulfill that demand. Where sunflower oil fits in is not replacement for the oils that are going to go toward biofuels.”

One acre of sunflowers can produce as much oil as two acres of soybean, he notes. That means sunflowers have a bright future as a go-to source for food grade oil when other oils are being diverted into the renewable diesel stream. Add to that the fact that high oleic sunflower is gaining steam, and the future is bright for this versatile crop.