Sunflower market situation – JUNE 2021

Sunflower seeds are a versatile product used to produce monounsaturated edible oils, carrier oils, snacks and food ingredients, in stock, horse, poultry, dairy rations and in bird and pet feeds. Use our Marketing guide to find a buyer for Australian grown sunflower seed.

Rotational fit

Sunflower is well suited to irrigated and no-till dryland farming systems, and can add diversity to farming systems to aid in pest, disease and weed management.

Sunflowers leave the soil softer and more friable than sorghum and also aid in restoring soil structure by breaking up compacted layers.

The deep taproot can extract moisture from a depth of 3 m deep in ideal soil conditions and the plants have a higher soil water extraction ability than many other crops, including sorghum and maize. In irrigated situations, sunflower has a lower water use than other summer crops such as maize, cotton and soybean.

The optimum place for sunflower in the rotation is following a cereal to maximise the benefit from an integrated weed and disease management perspective. They are commonly sown following a long fallow after either wheat or barley.

An alternative is to plant following a short fallow after sorghum. Double cropping is an option in seasons where stored moisture is not limited.

Market suitability should be taken into account when choosing the sunflower variety to plant.

Different markets have a preference for either black or grey stripe types, however there is significant substitution between the two, particularly in the feed markets depending on price, availability and the strength of consumer preference.

The Australian Sunflower Association encourages growers to engage an agronomist with experience in sunflower production and to use the resources on the Better Sunflowers website to minimise their production risks.

Marketing opportunities

The Australian sunflower market has undergone significant change in the last decade following the exit of the major vegetable oil crushing companies, which now primarily import sunflower oil.

There is strong consumer demand for high oleic sunflower oil in Australia and growers are encouraged to watch for future opportunities for larger volume requirements in this market.

Even so, there are several smaller oil crushing facilities keen to source Australian-grown sunflower seed.

The majority of sunflower seed grown in Australia is sold into the various feed markets. This market broadly requires bright, large and even seed with high test weight (38 kg/hL test weight or greater). Growers should take this into account when planning plant populations and row spacings to maximise seed size and weight.

The demand for stockfeed sunflowers in Australia is slowly growing, but is relatively fixed and price inelastic.

When supply is short, domestic prices will rise to import parity. This price varies year to year depending on the strength of the Australian dollar, global markets and technical constraints around importing, such as biosecurity rules and sterilisation capacity.

Growers marketing sunflowers in a supply-constrained market should seek advice on import parity pricing to maximise returns.

The third market sector is sunflower kernels for use in breakfast cereals, breads, confectionary and snacks.

This market requires a large seed that is easy to dehull. Moisture stress during the growing season can negatively affect the hull to kernel ratio, making the dehulling process difficult. Large seed suited to dehulling is most reliably produced under irrigation and in favourable, rainfed areas.

There are also buyers seeking certified organic sunflower in all of the above mentioned market sectors.

There are over 20 companies in Australia that buy sunflower seed for sale or processing. Sunflower seed traders and end-users buy on the spot market and or offer hectare contracts to growers.

In relatively small volume industries like sunflower it is often beneficial for growers to contact potential buyers prior to planting to fully understand the requirements of their preferred buyer and make marketing arrangements.

Quality standards

To fulfil the market requirements, producers must meet or exceed the receival standards when delivering harvested seeds.

The standards define the physical and chemical parameters, and set maximum levels of contaminants and impurities, for delivered product. This standard is managed by the Australian Oilseed Federation and is applicable to polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and birdseed sunflower. The standard can be found on the Grain Trade Australia website.

Buyers may offer premiums for higher quality consignments. They may also impose deductions, or refuse to accept, sunflower seed that does not meet the grade standard.