Prairie sunflowers flourishing despite heat, pests

Recent hot and dry weather has put some stress on western Canadian sunflowers as they finish flowering — but the weather conditions have also minimized threats from disease and pests, making the crop outlook very good for 2012-13 confection and oil sunflowers, according to one agronomist.

"The issues caused by heat and dryness are more in the sandier areas, but sunflowers have been able to root down fairly well. And they’re not as impacted by heat as much as some of the other crops in Manitoba for sure," said Claire Kincaid, agronomist with the National Sunflower Association of Canada at Carman, Man.

The heat could reduce the flowering period for sunflower plants and possibly create some slight yield loss, Kincaid said.

However, she added, the benefit of heat is reduced disease pressure, and whatever yield is lost from hot and dry conditions would likely be less than in a high disease year.

There was one report of mid-stock rot in Alberta, but in the main sunflower growing regions in Manitoba, the only disease issues came from farmers who didn’t maintain diversified crop rotation. Otherwise, disease has had little effect on sunflower plants, she said.

Lygus bugs were detected in confectionary sunflowers earlier in the season, so farmers were out spraying for them. Kincaid said it’s difficult to tell yet how prevalent the pest was, but she didn’t expect any severe yield losses.

She added that overall, plants aren’t facing too much adversity going into harvest and that stands are generally good.
But the true condition of the crop won’t be known for sure until it’s harvested and in the bin, she said.

"We’re on the home straight right now, so we just need another six weeks to two months of nice harvest weather,"
Kincaid said. She added that farmers could begin desiccating sunflowers as early as the end of August, and then harvest the crop a week later.

High cash bids

Weather at the end of August will ultimately determine the quality of the sunflower crop, said Ben Friesen, commodity
purchasing manager with Keystone Grain at Winkler, Man.

Humid conditions could cause some late-season disease problems with sunflower plants, but for now, yield potential for the crop looks good.

Friesen also said that the combination of bountiful yields and high cash bids for both oil sunflowers and confectionary
sunflowers will make the 2012-13 crop a profitable one for farmers.

Year-to-date, oil sunflower bids have been as high as 40 cents per pound, while confectionary sunflowers have sold for as much as 34 cents per pound, according to Prairie Ag Hotwire data.

"Because of some poor crops in the past three years, other countries aren’t overstocked on sunflowers right now," Friesen said.

High demand from China, the Middle East and the U.S. has underpinned values for confection sunflowers, he said. Oil sunflowers, on the other hand, have seen widespread demand across the globe, he added.

— Ryan Kessler writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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