sunflower head closeup
EARLY HARVEST: The sunflower crop is in good condition; desiccation and an early harvest may be warranted.

Which way for sunflower prices?

With a good crop coming, the market waits for USDA’s next report to set price direction for sunflowers for remainder of the year.

By John Sandbakken

Mid-August through September is the critical time for sunflowers. Last year, drought impacted production in the Dakotas, the largest sunflower-producing region in the U.S. So far this year, most of the sunflower acreage in the Dakotas has been rated in good-to-excellent condition.

Nationally, total planted sunflower acres were higher than what was reported in the March intentions report. According to USDA, area planted to sunflower in 2018 increased 4% from 2017 and totals 1.46 million acres. Harvested area for all types is expected to increase 4% from last year to 1.41 million acres as well. Planted area of oil type varieties, at 1.31 million acres, is up 8% from 2017. Harvested area for oil types is expected to increase 8% from last year to 1.27 million acres. Planted acreage of non-oil varieties, estimated at 147,000 acres, is down 21% from last year. Harvested area for non-oil varieties is expected to decrease 21% from last year to 136,700 acres. Compared with last year, acreage declined in five of the eight major sunflower producing states. The Dakotas both showed increases compared with last year, with acreage increases of 22,000 and 68,000 acres in North Dakota and South Dakota, respectively. Assuming a trend yield, U.S. sunflower production would increase 1% in 2018/19 to 2.20 billion pounds.

After this news hit the market, sunflower prices trended higher as the industry digested the numbers making sure to cover nearby needs. This was the first report of planted acres and these reports can change from month to month. In the past four years, USDA has changed final planted and harvested sunflower acres significantly by the time the final crop production numbers were released at the end of the year.

In March, USDA did report sunflower seed stocks in all positions at 1.23 billion pounds.  Stocks of oil type sunflower seed were at 1.05 billion pounds down 1% from last year at the same time. Non-oil sunflower stocks totaled 191 million pounds, down 33% from last year. This will give crushers, confection and bird food plants some cushion if the 2018 US sunflower crop production turns out as USDA is projecting. However, sunflower seed stocks will be extremely tight by the end of next market year and should keep old crop prices trending higher. With excellent bird food and oil demand there is a good likelihood that price premiums will be in place to encourage growers to desiccate and harvest early.

Now that the USDA report is factored into the market, buyers will anxiously watch crop production prospects before making longer term purchases.

In October, USDA will provide an updated estimate for oil and non-oil sunflower production. This report and demand news will set the tone for new crop sunflower price direction.

To keep up with market news and prices, go to

Sandbakken is the executive director of the National Sunflower Association.

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