Farm Progress

USDA says planted acres were down sharply, and drought in the Dakotas may cut production even more.

August 2, 2017

3 Min Read
DOWN TREND: All signs point to a sharp drop in U.S. sunflower production this year.

By John Sandbakken

According to USDA, area planted to sunflower in 2017 decreased 21% from 2016 and totals 1.27 million acres. Harvested area for all types is expected to decrease 21% from last year to 1.21 million acres. Planted area of oil-type varieties, at 1.08 million acres, is down 24% from 2016. Harvested area for oil types is expected to decrease 24% from last year to 1.04 million acres.

Planted acreage of non-oil varieties, estimated at 186,000 acres, is up 4% from last year. Harvested area for non-oil varieties is expected to increase 6% from last year to 175,500 acres.

In the main sunflower production region, most states had a decrease in acres. California, Kansas and Nebraska recorded a gain in total acreage from last year. Assuming a trend yield, U.S. sunflower production would decrease 30% in 2017-18 to 1.56 billion pounds. The current drought situation in the Dakotas could drive this figure even lower depending on how this growing season turns out.

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 three 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 1.33 billion pounds. Stocks of oil-type sunflower seed were at 1.05 billion pounds, up 36% from last year at the same time. Non-oil sunflower stocks totaled 277 million pounds, down 5% from last year as well. This will give crushers, confection and bird food plants some cushion if the 2017 U.S. 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 demand and strong oil values, 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. The biggest unknown is the drought impact on production in the Dakotas, the largest sunflower producers. A significant drop off in yield will impact the market. 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 in the near term. To keep up with market news and prices, go to

Sandbakken is executive director of the National Sunflower Association.

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