Sunny outlook for sunflower crops in 2022

February 8, 2022
Devin Gaugler, CHS grain origination specialist, discusses why sunflowers might be the right fit for farmers’ crop rotations this growing season.

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic hurt sunflower demand and weather woes reduced supply. Acres were reduced, a major drought hit most of the sunflower-growing region and the North American supply chain was fairly empty by harvest time, says Devin Gaugler, CHS grain origination specialist.

As a result, more sunflower acres are needed in 2022, which is sparking strong prices, says Gaugler. Crop insurance for sunflowers has undergone recent changes, too, that will help reduce the risk related to sunflower production. “If farmers end up with dark roast or sclerotia on what would have normally been considered a conoil sunflower contract, they can have some coverage there,” says Gaugler. “They’ll also be able to have separate enterprise units for confection and conoil sunflowers, reducing risk if they want to plant multiple types of sunflowers.”

New to sunflowers?

If you’re thinking about planting sunflowers for the first time or if you haven’t planted them in awhile, there are some things to consider, says Gaugler.

  • Weed and insect control. “There are some broadleaf weed control products you can use in-crop,” he notes, “but most of your weed control will come from a preemergent herbicide.” Depending on the type of sunflowers you plant, you may have to plan for aerial insecticide applications during flowering.
  • Planters. If you’re planting a confection or conoil variety, row crop planters will be necessary to get the low populations you want, says Gaugler.
  • Planting date. “In the northern region, early planting is the key to larger yields and earlier maturity,” he says. “If you have a lot of blackbirds in your area, an earlier planting date is key.”
  • Desiccation. Several chemical desiccation options are available for sunflower crops. But if natural dry down is your concern, a dehull contract for CHS conoils is something you should consider, says Gaugler. Higher population counts result in smaller head sizes, which can dry down more quickly.
  • Harvest. Harvest options range from using one of your existing headers modified with pans to buying a specialized sunflower head, if you’ve got enough acreage to justify minimizing the yield loss, says Gaugler. “On-farm storage is necessary,” he notes. “It’s best if you have an air bin to assist in drying and maintaining crop condition. Most of the sunflowers delivered into the confection or dehull market will be delivered over the winter and through the spring.” 

Sunflower value

Confection sunflowers have had one of the highest returns per acre of any of the crops planted in the Great Plains region over the last 10 years, according to USDA reports. “We’ve had sunflowers successfully grown from southern Manitoba, Canada, all the way down to Lubbock, Texas, mostly in the western Great Plains,” says Gaugler. Sunflowers may also offer a partial remedy to 2022’s high fertilizer prices. “In most scenarios, nitrogen is the only thing that you need to get a yield response in sunflowers,” says Gaugler. “If your soil has nitrogen left over from 2021, take advantage of sunflower’s deep tap root to capture the dollars that are left in your field.”

CHS sunflower contracting program

CHS has its own seed breeding program with contracts available for varieties the company has developed. “Depending on which variety you choose to grow, you’ll either be looking at contracting your entire production or a certain number of pounds per acre,” says Gaugler. CHS contracts protect farmers in the event of production problems caused by hail, drought or other natural disasters.

If you’re interested in contracting or have questions about contracts, learn more at chssunflower.com.