Thursday, March 27, 2008

Notes From The National Sunflower Association

National Sunflower Association on the current sunflower market. Below are a few excerpts including a link to current bids for sunflowers at crushing plants to give you an idea of what's going on in the market and what you can expect from your seed suppliers. You can read the full article here:

The domestic and international markets for U.S. confection in-shell sunflower seeds are growing each year. Though domestic demand has averaged about 10 percent growth annually, exports actually have enjoyed the most dynamic growth - especially in the Middle East and Turkey, where exports have more than doubled during the past two years.

One could summarize the overseas market for U.S. confection sunflower seed over the past two years in a single word: awesome. And it promises to remain that way well beyond 2008.

Confection in-shell exports were almost 94,000 metric tons in marketing year 2006/07 - an increase of 32 percent compared to 2005/06, reports Bob Majkrzak, president and CEO of Red River Commodities, Fargo, N.D. Exports to Spain, which is a premium market for quality, was up 16 percent. “But exports were up huge in Turkey and in Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Syria - by about 118 percent,” Majkrzak says.

Confection sunflower really means in-shell, and farmers should be selecting hybrids based on the percentage of large seed they will produce. Seed size and percentage nutmeat are two key variables to keep in mind when selecting confection hybrids. Seed size is generally evaluated as percentage over a ‘___/64th' round hole screen, comparing 16, 18, 20 and 22, the four most common sizes. Typically, the larger the percentage of seed over a 20/64 round hole screen, the better.

Seed under 16/64 is generally too small and may be hulled or used as birdseed. The 16 through 18/64 seed size is primarily used for hulling to produce kernel. The 20/64 size is commonly used in the domestic in-shell markets, while seed that is 22/64 and over is used primarily for the export in-shell market.

Demand is particularly high for large- size seeds. The percentage of confection seed size over a 20/64 screen is becoming increasingly important with processors. The export market prefers the longer seed, so processors are buying more on seed size - which is becoming more of a price factor.

In numerous foreign countries (e.g., Spain, China, Turkey) consumers eat sunflower one seed at a time - much the way Americans eat in-shell peanuts. That's why the larger seeds are desired. Large seed size is not as important in the domestic in-shell sunflower market, since Americans commonly consume sunflower seeds a mouthful at a time.

Within the United States, sunflower seeds have found their niche in the large market of people who enjoy outdoor activities; subsequently, sales peak in the summer months. Baseball players, truckers, outdoor enthusiasts and school kids are among the many groups of consumers who derive pleasure and nutrition from popping a handful of sunflower seeds into their mouths. As noted previously, this method of eating sunflower seeds makes American consumers unique in comparison to most other global consumers.

Domestically, about 25 percent of U.S. confection sunflower seeds are consumed as in-shell. Most are roasted and salted in the shell and eaten as a snack. A few years ago, sunflower seeds became available in flavors such as barbeque, sour cream and onion, Cajun, ranch, and hot and spicy. More recently, seeds that provide an extra jolt of caffeine and energy became available.

Steve Arnhalt, general manager of SunOpta Sunflower, says the new trend for domestic products is roasters offering consumers what are termed “jumbo” seeds. To be considered a jumbo, seeds need to be a 22/64 size in some products. “As long as consumers stay focused on health issues and healthy products, this bodes well for sunflower products in general,” Arnhalt affirms.

Bohn says confection hybrid selection boils down to experience in knowing what performs best in your particular growing area. He also encourages growers to use good management practices when harvesting and storing the seeds to deliver the highest quality product possible.

Buyers prefer long-shape in-shells with a black center and pronounced outer white stripes. Quality factors are crucial to buyers, with the most important one being appearance. The second is good taste, with the third being acceptable insect damage levels. Bohn says buyers purchase with their eyes first and do not like off-color or highly scuffed seeds. Consistent shape and size is also very important. End-use buyers are pickier and very discriminating when it comes to buying in-shell.

Harvested confection sunflower acreage in 2007 was slightly less than 300,000. The confection industry is looking for a 20-25 percent increase in 2008 to reach a goal this year of 400,000 acres. Annual growth of 10-15 percent will be needed for the next two to three years to keep up with demand, as the industry focuses on reaching the 500,000-acre plateau.

The best online resource for tracking new-crop sunflower bids is the National Sunflower Association's Site.

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