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Manitoba sunflower acreage set to drop

CNS Canada — The closure of a sunflower processing plant in southern Alberta has Manitoba sunflower growers feeling uneasy this year.

“Because of the plant closure there’s quite a bit of delay in delivery of the ’17 crop. So it’s discouraged quite a few guys from growing more (sunflowers),” said Ben Friesen, senior market manager for Scoular Canada.

PepsiCo in February announced it will close its Spitz sunflower seed processing plant at Bow Island, Alta. later this year. While the company said it would continue to buy confectionary sunflowers in Canada, due to the closure they are currently delayed on deliveries and many farmers have had to hold onto last year’s crop.

PepsiCo is “still buying, will continue to buy, but they’re going to be diverting it to different processing facilities in the U.S. It’s going to be a year where it’s probably caused a bit of confusion and a bit of a downturn on the confection side of sunflowers,” Friesen said.

In Statistics Canada’s principal field crop areas report released last month, the agency predicted a 30.8 per cent drop in Canadian sunflower acres; the majority of acres are grown in Manitoba. From information gathered in surveys completed in March, Statistics Canada predicted acreage would drop to 45,000 acres from 65,000.

The prediction doesn’t surprise Friesen. Given the Bow Island plant closure and what he has heard from producers, he expects confection sunflower acreage to drop. However, the plant closure isn’t affecting oilseed sunflowers, so he doesn’t expect to see an acreage drop for those.

At the National Sunflower Association of Canada, observers are more optimistic and predict acres to stay flat at around 65,000.

“It’s still a little bit early to tell just because we’re in the midst of planting and with the dry weather that could also potentially change some growers thoughts on sunflowers,” said NSAC executive director Darcelle Graham.

According to Graham, sunflower planting started the second week in May in Manitoba and is on schedule. Sunflowers do well in a drier climate but, like most crops, require timely rains.

Both Graham and Friesen are hopeful that next year could see a rebound in sunflower acres. Last year acreage dropped by 7.1 per cent as large carryover stocks from previous years held producers back from planting sunflowers.

“I know that supply is starting to dwindle so we’re hoping this year with flat acres that we’ll see increased acres next year,” Graham said.

Sunflowers still give producers a good payout and Friesen is hoping producers are willing to return to growing the crop next year.

“I’m planning and hoping for our facility and everything that we can get back much more into a positive note for the growers for next year to get them out of the delayed procedure. Like it’s a normal delivery crop again for the future.”

— Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Glacier FarmMedia company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow her at @AshleyMR1993 on Twitter.

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