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Spoiled For Choice

Choosing Sunflower Hybrids

Producers must consider the individual needs of their farms when choosing which sunflower varieties to grow.

For producers, choosing which sunflower hybrids to grow on their farms is not like choosing corn or soybean varieties, says Alison Pokrzywinski, Nuseed’s Sunflower Product Development Manager for North America, as they can’t narrow their hybrid choices by maturity only.

Producers must assess a number of factors, including the individual needs of their farms, which will narrow their choices to a handful of hybrids, and then maturity is considered. For example, what processing facilities are within close proximity, such as oilseed crushing plants, what grain types local elevators take, and the contract’s delivery period and storage requirements are some of the other factors producers must consider. Sunflower hybrid choice is directly related to the market a producer plans to enter and the specific region where the hybrid will be planted.

Typically, conoils and confections offer higher contract prices than other markets. However, higher contract prices usually mean higher stakes. For instance, meeting contract quality standards for the confection market, such as seed size and insect and disease damage, is often challenging, says Pokrzywinski. Thus, management of confection or conoil crops is different from oilseed sunflower crops.

Oilseeds are usually the easiest to grow and are the lowest risk for producers, however, of the three markets, they offer the lowest financial rewards. Oil sunflowers can be produced under contract or for the open market. Local elevators also offer cash prices based on market demand.

Over the past few years, high oleic acreage has been growing and is the largest segment of the total oil sunflower acres in the United States. Demand from major buyers for sunflower oil, primarily high oleic and NuSun, is fairly consistent throughout the year. In addition, oil crush buyers will pay a premium of 2% for any percentage above 40% oil content.

Sunflower Seed Types and Markets
Understanding the different sunflower markets, and the risks and rewards of each, before choosing a hybrid, is important. The three sunflower seed types—confection, oil and conoil— can be further divided by oil or visual traits and then again by buyer or end-use market. 

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Consider ROI
When choosing sunflower hybrids, usually ROI is considered first, says Pokrzywinski.

“Sunflower producers will consider strong contracts, prices or market demand, ultimately choosing the most profitable opportunity for their operations.”

Sunflower growers can sell to one market or several as there are many options open to them. Producers may also choose to plant multiple maturities or diversify hybrids to spread the risk on their farms. In addition, sunflower production contracts often include an “Act of God” clause further reducing producers’ financial risks.

Next to price, on-farm storage capability is an important factor affecting hybrid choice. Producers with on-farm storage for sunflower are usually rewarded for storing their crops. Buyers often pay growers bonuses for storing the crop over an extended period of time, says Pokrzywinski. “If you can store, you’re usually rewarded financially.”

Producers without on-farm storage will want to consider contracts, and corresponding hybrid choices, that include hauling directly after harvest. “If you’re a grower who doesn’t have on-farm storage, you need to work with a processor that can take grain right away,” says Pokrzywinski.

Logistics is another important factor to consider when choosing markets and hybrids. For some producers, proximity to receiving stations will limit their market and hybrid choices. While some producers will drive long distances for good contract prices, others may offer on-farm pickup, which is another factor influencing market and hybrid choice as well as a producer’s contract.

Hybrid decisions should also be based on the herbicides producers use on their farms. Sunflower producers have two options for in-season weed control—BASF’s Clearfield or DuPont’s ExpressSun production systems. Nuseed’s portfolio includes both herbicide-tolerant traits.

“It’s important for producers to know which weeds are the primary issues on their farms, or what weeds will be the issue in-season— and to choose their sunflower hybrids accordingly,” says Pokrzywinski.

It’s also important to consider disease pressure, and when at risk, choose a hybrid with resistance to that disease, she adds. Different disease pressures occur at different times, so growing sunflower hybrids with different maturities can also help manage the risk.

Seed treatments are a valuable risk management tool for the early stages of plant growth. Plenaris seed treatment is available on Nuseed hybrids. It provides excellent protection against all downy mildew races, and in combination with Dynasty seed treatment, brings resistance management as additional control.

Before purchasing seed, it is crucial all producers confirm their contract requirements, says Pokrzywinski. Knowing what is expected beforehand can help alleviate confusion later on and helps a grower to understand what is expected for quality standards, storage, etc., she adds.

“To achieve top quality, producers should ensure the crop is managed properly with the appropriate fertility plan, weed control, and insect and disease management. If producers manage the crop well, they will be rewarded financially,” says Pokrzywinski.