Sunflowers unlock new market in Canterbury

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
Canterbury farmers looking for an additional crop to add to the mix this summer might do well to look at sowing sunflower seeds.

Researchers have found high-oleic sunflower varieties have potential and with a crushing plant already set up in North Canterbury, they say there is a very strong and ready market for the healthy shelf-stable oil produced.

Foundation for Arable Research General Manager of Business Operations, Ivan Lawrie, said trials in Canterbury using hybrid seeds from France showed good returns.

"It's a low input crop, so the cost of actually getting the crop established and the use of chemicals and fertiliser is minimal.

"If you can grow three-plus tonne of sunflower, that's providing margins somewhere in the region of $1600 to $1800 (per hectare) but for a crop that's only in the ground for a short period of time."

A sunflower crop field day. Photo: Supplied
A sunflower crop field day. Photo: Supplied
Sunflowers take 140 days from sowing to harvest and grow over a period of time in summer when there are a few cropping options for farmers, Lawrie said.

Birds, though, are a challenge and can wipe out a crop, he said.

He said there are a few devices around to scare them off which show some promise, although more research is needed.

"Visual devices like lasers and lights, sound devices like squawkers and gas guns but the truth is if you're not growing a reasonable size paddock of sunflowers and if you're growing it in a region where there's no other grain or other crops around, they'll leave you pretty much nothing."

Growers need at least 60-thousand plants per hectare to have a successful crop, the research found.

The sunflowers' deep roots are good for the soil and help condition the land for the next crop in the rotation, such as wheat.

Lawrie said there was increasing interest from North Island farmers in growing sunflowers but they needed to factor in the cost of transporting the harvest to the South Island processing plant.

The research was part of a three-year government-funded project looking at crop options to raise profitability and provide alternative land uses.

More than 20 growers were involved in the study.





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