CNS Canada — Stable prices, generally good growing conditions and a mediocre harvest in Argentina have industry officials smiling at the prospects for this season’s Prairie sunflower crop.
In late March, reports surfaced that some parts of Argentina were slightly damaged from dry weather late last year. The country is traditionally one of the world’s largest exporters of the oilseed.
“Right now Argentina has just finished harvesting; at the moment they don’t sound like they’ve had that fantastic a crop. If we were going to get any pressure from them it would have happened in the last month and it has not,” said Ben Friesen, commodity purchasing manager with Legumex Walker’s Keystone Grain arm at Winkler, Man.
He notes prices have been fairly steady over the past two years. “Right now confection sunflowers are ballparking in the 32 (cents a pound) range with black oil in the 22 (cents a pound) range,” he added.
Friesen said he doesn’t foresee a lot of change coming into the domestic market either, because there is only so much planting seed available.
On the international market, the latest projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s March grain stocks report showed sunflower stocks in all positions down 33 per cent from last year, as of March 1.
Crushers and confections plants, most of which are based in the U.S., are also offering new-crop contracts that have cash and/or “act of God” production clauses.
Initial estimates from analysts anticipated that total sunflower acres in the U.S. would be around two million acres, but the March planting intentions report showed farmers were planning to put just under 1.6 million acres in the ground.
Friesen said he’s optimistic 2014 will be a decent year for growers. “I think they look favourable for the grower as well as for the processor.”
Troy Turner, an agronomist with the National Sunflower Association of Canada, estimated Western Canada could see 100,000 acres planted this season, with 90 per cent of those going in Manitoba.
If those projections are accurate, it would be a large jump from the 70,000 acres planted last year.
“I think we’re optimistic, there’s been a lot of good things happening in sunflowers,” he said.
Turner said the cold in Manitoba has kept things from thawing as fast as they can, but he doesn’t see it causing any serious problems unless it hangs around until the end of April.
Yields have increased substantially over the past five years, he noted, largely due to herbicide tolerant sunflower seeds and other genetic breakthroughs. “That’s making quite a difference.”
The crop is especially desirable for producers who are looking for rotations from wheat or canola. The sunflower’s substantial root system also enables it to draw nitrogen from as far down as two feet.
As a result, it doesn’t require the same amount of fertilizer as other crops such as corn or wheat.
As far as challenges facing sunflowers go, disease such as rust is an ever-present threat.
Fortunately, Turner said, fungicides originally designed for other crops have been used to bring the situation under control.
— Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.