If sunflowers have anywhere to go, it’s up.

Nuseed just finished its annual Sunflower University event, and the event — held both in-person and virtually — gave sunflower growers a snapshot of how the crop continues to gain traction in a market that is benefiting from cutting-edge varieties and the nutritional and agronomic benefits they bring to the table.

Breeding advances mean yields are going up all the time, said Mike Bolz, sales merchandiser for Scoular, a sunflower processor based in Nebraska. These yield advances mean more farmers want to buy sunflower seed.

Yields for oil-type sunflower are higher than they’ve ever been, rising steadily since 2000 to where they were in 2021, at around 1,800 pounds per acre (compared to just under 1,400 in 2000). Confection type sunflower has been similar boosts, with recod high yields reported in recent years.

Demand for sunflower seed for use in snack food is going up 2% a year, Bolz said.

“During COVID, sunflower kernel consumption has increased as consumers continue to look for ready-to-eat and traditional foods. Alternative uses continue to be allergen-free alternative sunflower butter, and grilled sunflower,” he added.

The latter seems like a new trend coming up in 2022. Enthusiasts will cut a head of head sunflower and grill it, eating it like corn on the cob.

Furthermore, sunflower seed for bird food skyrocketed during the pandemic, as people took to birdwatching as they spent more time at home.

“People weren’t leaving their homes, they needed to find new hobbies. Birders spent some of their money on sunflower bird food, but processors were already at capacity. So, the bird food demand led to an increase in the price trend, just because of the supply needed to get it to the shelves,” Bolz said.

With Scouler seeing a 5% increase year over year on bird food, its bird food division is seeing considerable forward movement,he said.

Furthermore, the global trade of sunflower oil is rising as health-conscious consumers look to consume more of the product. With sunflower oil having versatile cooking utility thanks to modern varieties of sunflower, the Asia-Pacific region makes up 40% of global demand.

Bolz said seed demand is strong for 2022 for this drought-tolerant crop. Contracting for sunflower production was already beginning last fall, which is very early and shows that demand is high.

“Going into 2022, sunflower is going to be looked at very favourably. Sunflower acres in production should continue to grow and we encourage companies to continue to develop new varieties. The growers always pushing for better yields and agronomics, and we’re also pushing as processors. We look for size, we look for good kernels, high oleic. There’s new trends happening that we want to take advantage of,” Bolz added.

“When we go to the seed companies, we see that they’re fulfilling their commitments and delivering the results not only to the processors, but actually to the growers to promote sunflower acres, and it’s great to see that collaboration.”

Birdwatching Craze Helps Drive Sunflower Boom