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Close up of an unopened sunflower bud Lon Tonneson
RAPID DEVELOPMENT: Bracts wrap tightly around a sunflower head as it gets closer to blooming. Heading into harvest, sunflower prices have been trending higher as the industry sees increased acres planted.

Old crop sunflower market stays strong

Sunflower stocks are down and export demand is up as a bigger U.S. sunflower crop begins blossoming.

According to USDA, area planted to sunflower in 2020 increased 14% from 2019 and totals 1.54 million acres. Harvested area for all types is expected to increase 18% from last year to 1.47 million acres as well.

Planted area of oil type varieties, at 1.37 million acres, is up 15% from 2019. Harvested area for oil types is expected to increase 18% from last year to 1.32 million acres.

Planted acreage of non-oil varieties, estimated at 170,500, is up 11% from last year. Harvested area is expected to increase 24% from last year to 158,000 acres.

Compared with last year, acreage increased in six of the eight major sunflower-producing states. The state with the largest increase from last year is North Dakota, where planted area increased 85,000 acres compared with last year. South Dakota also had a large increase compared with last year, with planted area up 82,000 acres from the previous year.

Initial estimates using trend yields peg oil-type sunflower production at 2.12 billion pounds up 12% from last year with confection sunflower production at 270 million pounds up 22% from 2019.

So, what does this mean in terms of prices for the rest of this marketing year heading into harvest? 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. Planting was still going on in some states when the survey was taken so changes to planted acres will most likely occur. In the past five 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 reported stocks of oil type sunflower seed were at 643 million pounds, down 5% from last year at the same time. Non-oil sunflower stocks totaled 125 million pounds, down 18% from last year. This level of stocks gave crushers, confection and birdfood plants some cushion before new crop arrival at the plants.

However, given the current excellent birdfood and oil demand sunflower seed stocks will be extremely tight by the end of this month. This should keep old crop prices trending higher and 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. Mid-August through September is the critical time frame for sunflowers. So far this year, most sunflower acreage in the Dakotas and Minnesota has been rated in good-to-excellent condition.

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.

Sandbakken is executive director of the National Sunflower Association.

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