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Choosing The Right Confection Hybrid

Friday, December 1, 2000
filed under: Planting Systems

Choosing The Right Confection Hybrid

Make sure it suits your growing area—and that it’s marketable

Selecting the hybrid that bests suits your growing area and the needs of the marketplace is a key first step to successfully producing confection sunflower.

More sensitive to the vagaries of weather, pests, and price, there’s no question that confection sunflower requires a step up in management compared to oil-type sunflower. Don’t let the challenges scare you away, however, because the crop can also be profitable. “There’s risk in growing them, but there can also be a nice reward,” says Tim Petry, field production manager, Dahlgren & Company, Crookston, MN.

Many of the same dynamics used to select oil sunflower are the same for confection. In performance trial information, yield potential, test weight, head diameter, stalk strength, maturity (though most hybrids are usually full-season) and pest tolerance or resistance are key characteristics for hybrid comparison. Give more weight to information from trials or fields close to home, and compare relative performance over many years and locations.

There are also characteristics to look for specific to confection hybrids. One attribute gaining in importance is seed size.

“The export market likes the longer seed, so seed length is becoming more of a price factor. Processing companies are buying more on seed length, so if a farmer brings in a truckload, he may see a larger premium for seed length,” says Jerry Miller, research geneticist at the USDA Northern Crop Science Lab, Fargo, ND.

Seed size is generally evaluated in field plot data as percentage over/64 screen, comparing 18, 20, and 22, the three most common sizes. Generally, the larger the percentage, the better.

Seed under 18/64 is generally too small, and is hulled or used as bird seed. The 20/64 seed size is used for hulling and in-shell markets, while seed that is 22/64 and over is used primarily for the in-shell market.

Percentage nut meat, also specific to confection hybrid performance, measures hull weight versus weight of the kernel inside. While seed size is a key factor for the in-shell market, percentage nut meat is a key factor in the de-hulling market, which prizes a greater ratio of nuts to hulls.

Most confection companies employ agronomists to help confection producers monitor their crops and make treatment decisions. It’s a good idea to consult with these agronomists when selecting confection hybrids. It’s important to not only communicate with your agronomist, but also with the person who will be buying your seed, and the criteria for meeting specs. “The confection market changes, and producers must be aware of their preferences,” says Miller.

Quality standards are steadily rising in the confection market, for a simple reason: consumers here and abroad are demanding it, says John Sandbakken, the National Sunflower Association’s marketing director. In overseas markets—China for example—consumers buy American confection sunflower particularly because it is known as a quality product. Thus, to provide otherwise may sacrifice markets.

The burnt, off flavor from dark roast, and foreign material such as insect damage, pieces of stalk, bits of sclerotinia, and cocklebur are all examples of taste experiences in-shell sunflower consumers do not want when they buy a bag of sunflower seeds, says Sandbakken, adding that in extreme cases where consumers suffer tooth damage, presence of such foreign material can even make processors subject to lawsuits.

Of course, some of these problems are not the fault of the hybrid. Indeed, some of the problems are preventable through good in-field management: Controlling cocklebur development, cutting heads at the best height to minimize stalks and chaff, combining at the right moisture level to prevent seed scuffing, and adequate storage.

“When you plant a confection sunflower, you should expect and plan for more management. You’ll need to scout more often, and look for things such as seed weevils. Make sure you have the right hybrid for the market you want to sell into, and work with company agronomists who can help out with the management techniques, and work with you to achieve the results you want,” says Max Dietrich, the NSA’s production coordinator.

While hybrid selection is the first step to successfully producing confection sunflower, the first step to successfully marketing it is a production contract, Sandbakken points out. Virtually all contracts include quality specifications outlining acceptable limits. “Be aware of terms in the contract itself, and that you’re comfortable with them,” he says.

Premium for preferred types

Yield is far and away the top factor that producers should consider when selecting hybrids, says Dean Pedersen, purchasing manager and agronomist with Agway, Grandin, ND. “They get paid on pounds, and collect LDP based on pounds,” he says.

Pedersen believes the number two factor should be processor preferences. “As a buyer, I like long, big seed, and in a year when it’s short, it’ll command a premium.”

“Right now (early November) I’m bidding $12 per hundredweight for good quality, long-seeded confection. I’m not bidding short-rounded seed. That may change, and I might buy other short-rounded seed later in the year. But now, I want to save my storage space for the long-seeded type, because that type tends to work in all the markets,” Pedersen says. “You can de-hull them and sell the kernels. You can keep them in-shell and sell them overseas or domestically. The export end-use market doesn’t want the short, round seed. So you lose one of the three market outlets with that type of seed.”

Dahlgren’s Petry says it’s not always easy for confection processors to foresee their needs into the future. Still, there are certain characteristics such as the versatility of long seeds which will remain consistently in demand. “You probably have more security with a long seed,” he says. “A shorter, round seed would be more secure if you have a contract, because then you have a market.”

Mike Williams, general manager of Red River Commodities in Lubbock, TX, says the same quality criteria are driving confection hybrid selection in the High Plains. Longer, larger seed is preferred, and Williams believes that preference is generally being reflected in new confection hybrid development as well.

Herb Schmidt, sunflower breeder with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, says that confection processors want all-purpose confection hybrids that can be used for different markets, and that the demand for longer, larger confection kernels is indeed being reflected in confection hybrid development.

Schmidt predicts NuSun confection hybrids will be another trend to develop in confection sunflower breeding, pointing out that some NuSun confection hybrids were included in the NSA’s NuSun Show Field plots in 2000. Breeding NuSun characteristics into new confection hybrids isn’t that difficult to accomplish, says Schmidt, and it may offer new marketing benefits, such as a longer shelf life.

Petry agrees with Pedersen that it’s important to communicate with buyers when selecting hybrids. Different buyers have different needs, and that’s somewhat dependent upon their processing capabilities.

Further, producers should make sure hybrids are suited for their particular growing areas. “We see varieties that don’t do well south that are phenomenal further north, and vice versa. There can be a lot of diversity on where a variety will do well, and where it doesn’t.” That’s where visiting with a company agronomist can pay off, he says, in helping to identify attributes that are desired or not wanted, but also growing season problems in the region the previous year that need to be kept in mind when selecting hybrids the following year.

“We have ideas about what performs best in what areas, with insect pressure, for example. Some varieties can help provide a more uniform bloom, making treatments if necessary easier to manage,” Petry says.

Pedersen believes many producers don’t always spend as much time on hybrid selection as they should.

“There are times when guys get sold and don’t always do their homework, when there’s probably valuable information out there that can help them,” Pedersen says. “After you pay land rent and apply (inputs), the bottom line is that your potential yield is based on the genetics you put in the ground, and all you’re trying to do is save enough of that total potential as possible. So starting with the right hybrid is key as far as providing what you want—a marketable product at the end, with the highest yield and greatest revenue return potential possible.” – Tracy Sayler

More sunflower production info online

For a primer on selecting oil hybrid (with worksheets for calculating oil sunflower gross revenue) as well as more information on optimizing confection crop quality, see The Sunflower Magazine archives online,at get there, click on the link, “The Sunflower Magazine,” then “The Archives.” A link to the article “Get A Jump On 2001 Hybrid Selection,” from the Oct/Nov 2000 issue, can be found under the “Planting Systems” category of the archives. A link to “Optimizing the Quality of Your Confection Crop” from the April, 1998 issue can be found under the utilization/trade category. The archives also contain stories under the categories of Disease, Equipment, Fertility, Insects/Birds, Minimum Till/No-Till, Rotation, Weeds, Irrigation/Water Use, and Harvest/Storage.

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