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Native Traits Helping Address Sunflower Challenges

2021 and Beyond

Nuseed’s R&D Lead for Sunflower, Jim Gerdes, offers his insights into the challenges and future opportunities for the sunflower.

What are the key topics/issues that canola and sunflower growers are facing right now?

There is always pressure from competing crops and commodity pricing. Major crops such as corn and soybean have huge investments in R&D that have resulted in these crops being more and more competitive in traditional sunflower growing environments. Being native to North America, a number of diseases, weeds, and insects have co-evolved with sunflower. In addition, the non-GMO status of sunflowers limits some of the tools available to breeders. This makes sunflower production more challenging than many crops.

What are the biggest challenges and how can they be overcome?

Insects, diseases, and weeds continue to pose challenges for sunflower growers. Several other key issues include bird predation and stand establishment. Nuseed has aggressively worked with disease resistance germplasm sources and herbicide resistance released by the USDA-ARS Sunflower Research Unit in Fargo to incorporate genes into our programs. There is a wealth of native traits available in wild relatives of sunflower, as well as other traits developed through non-GMO technologies that are allowing us to address many of these challenges.

What do you foresee for the industry in 2021 and beyond?

Sunflowers have incredible diversity for many characteristics including oil, protein, and other output traits. The increased attention on healthier oils, plant-based proteins, and non-GMO foods put sunflower in a very good position going forward.

Jim Gerdes has a MS in Agriculture/ Plant Breeding from South Dakota State University and a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been with Nuseed for nearly seven years as the R&D Lead for Sunflower. Jim has nearly 30 years of experience in sunflower breeding, working with both oilseed and confectionary types.