Sunflowers prepare to deal with frost challenges

A sunflower crop near Fargo, North Dakota. Further north, Manitoba growers expect to begin desiccating soon if forecasts co-operate. (File photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

CNS Canada — As the potential for frost mounts in Western Canada, sunflower watchers say the crop should be OK, as long as temperatures don’t hit -4 C or lower.

Troy Turner, an agronomist with the National Sunflower Association of Canada, said his phone began ringing last week when cooler temperatures approached Manitoba; farmers wanted to know if their sunflowers were at risk.

“It takes a hard frost to kill them completely, a 0 C or -1 C will just catch the leaves a bit,” he said, “but as far as the heads go, you need a frost of -4 C for several hours throughout the night to kill them off.”

Another week to two weeks of warm, dry weather would help existing fields quite a bit, he said. Some fields in the western portion of Manitoba are quite far behind; Carman, Winkler and Altona in south-central Manitoba plus most of the Red River Valley are the most advanced.

“There will be some acres that are still very immature that may not make it. But I don’t think that’s a very high percentage at this point; you know, if it’s five or 10 per cent I’d be surprised,” said Turner.

Head rot is also a concern, with some fields reporting incident rates between one and 15 per cent.

“Fifteen (per cent) is concerning,” said Turner, adding incident rates that high are rare. He also noted producers who applied fungicide at the correct time are doing much better than those who didn’t.

He expected farmers to begin chemical desiccation by the end of the week if the forecast holds up.

“If we do get a frost in September, I think the western part of Manitoba would be hit quite hard, possibly Saskatchewan as well,” said Mike Durand, sales and purchasing manager for Nestibo Agra Commodity Processors at Deloraine, Man.

He agreed the majority of crops are delayed and need some make-up time. “There are some late fields that need a couple of weeks in October as well. In the Red River valley they’re further ahead and not as worried.”

Another concern is the potential damage Red River blackbirds could bring.

“They are getting to be a bit of an issue,” said Turner, noting some farmers have called him with complaints the birds are stripping the heads out of fields.

Blackbirds often target sunflowers, he said, because the plants are typically one of the last food sources available once the other crops have been harvested.

As far as price goes, old-crop black oil sunflowers are pretty much the same as new-crop right now.

“I’m paying about 20 cents a pound delivered in. It’s probably the lowest it’s been all year,” said Durand.

He attributed the low price to weakness in the vegetable oil market and isn’t sure when that will change. “I think if I can stay at 20 cents a pound than the crop is still competitive price-wise or production-wise.”

Most of the acres lost due to this year’s wet conditions were likely on the confection side, and Durand said that will be reflected in the market going forward.

“I’m anticipating good prices for next year. The market should stay strong through all of 2014-15.”

— Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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