Article Archives
Market Looks Bright for Confections in 2002

Wednesday, January 2, 2002
filed under: Utilization/Trade: Confection-Non-oil

Market Looks Bright for Confections in 2002

Large in-shell sunflower in particular demand overseas

John Sandbakken describes the overseas market for confection sunflower over the past year in one word— “awesome.” And it promises to remain that way well into 2002.

Sunflower kernel exports were almost 56,000 metric tons in 2000/01 compared to 1999/00, an increase of 14%, says Sandbakken, marketing director for the National Sunflower Association. The inshell market was up 6%, “but it was up huge in Spain, about 40%, and that’s a premium market for quality,” says Sandbakken.

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

Sandbakken explains that in many overseas countries such as Spain, China, and Turkey, consumers eat sunflower one seed at a time, much the way Americans eat inshell peanuts. That’s why the larger seeds are desired. Large seed size is not as important in the domestic inshell sunflower market, since Americans commonly eat sunflower seeds a mouthful at a time.

Large seeds will be in demand in 2002, since they are in short supply. “A lot of seed produced in 2001 was small; under 20. So for inshell, especially for export, buyers want 22’s or above,” says Sandbakken. “There will be excellent demand for large seed into next fall.”

What was the cause of smaller confection sunflower kernels produced in the U.S. last year? Sandbakken says some speculate that the very warm weather in August accelerated plant growth so much that sunflower plants did not put enough resources into seed development.

Another positive factor to the confection market this year is the production outlook for Argentina. Excessive rain has affected confection acreage there, especially inshell sunflower. “They are one of our key competitors. If their crop is short, it could expand our window of opportunity in the export market, especially in Spain, which is such a critical market for us, which last year accounted for almost half of all our exports,” says Sandbakken.

Also supportive is the fact that the short supply of sunflower seed in the world has boosted sunflower prices in China. “Sunflower prices in China have risen and it will make them less competitive, because we can provide a better quality product,” Sandbakken says.

Selecting Confection Hybrids

Seed size and percentage nut meat 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 three most common sizes. Generally, the larger the percentage, the better.

Seed under 16/64 is generally too small, and may be hulled or used as bird seed. The 16 through 20/64 seed size is primarily used for hulling. 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.

Percentage nut meat, 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.

Growers who plant confection sunflower should expect and plan for more management, says Max Dietrich, the NSA’s production coordinator. You’ll need to scout more often, and pay more attention to controlling insects and other pests. “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 management techniques, and work with you to achieve the results you want,” Dietrich advises.

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, Dietrich says. Different buyers have different needs, depending in part upon their processing capabilities. Company agronomists can be instrumental as well to help explain the criteria for meeting contract specifications.

Indeed, 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 advises.

“A Product, Not a Commodity”

Uniformity in flowering is important to selecting confection hybrids, to help manage insects, says Bill Sullivan, seed production supervisor, Dahlgren & Company, Crookston, Minn. “More uniform (means) more timely control and less cost,” he says.

“Check out university trials in your area to see how varieties area performing,” says Sullivan. “Growers should also look at NuSun oil varieties…because then the grower will have more options when marketing: NuSun market, hulling market, or bird seed.”

Tim Petry, Dahlgren’s field production manager, foresees more NuSun dehulling hybrids coming on the market, but doesn’t foresee a premium for NuSun hullers. Rather, it will just give producers more market options. “I really like the idea of a dehulling NuSun oil sunflower. There’s no premium in the dehulling market for NuSun, but to work with the rest of the markets, I see a future largely being NuSun.”

Chris Bohn, purchasing manager, Agway Sunflower, Grandin, N.D., agrees that producers should keep an eye on what the confection market is demanding. “And what the market is asking for is long-type confection with a lot of seed size to them. The long-types will really provide the best market opportunities.”

Bohn says confection hybrid selection boils down to the experience in knowing what performs best in your particular growing area, combined with testing data from public and private sources. He urges growers to take credence in company data. “Most of these companies are putting out good numbers. They have nothing to gain by inflating numbers of a hybrid that doesn’t actually perform.”

Bob Majkrzak, president and CEO, Red River Commodities, Fargo, stresses that while there are hybrids available which may be suitable for different sunflower markets, producers eyeing the confection market should treat and manage their crop as confection from the start. “It will always do better on the hulling market than seeds grown with the chance that, ‘if it’s nice enough in the fall, I’ll sell into the hulling market.’ If you really want to go for the premium market, seed should be taken care of from the very beginning. Figure on the fact that you are growing confection, and manage it as such,” he says.

Sometimes producers view confection buyers as being finicky, but that changes once they look at what they produce from the perspective of end users. “They know what’s not supposed to be in that bag of sunflower seeds,” Majkrzak says. “We need to look at marketing sunflower as a product, not a commodity. If you grow products, you need to know who’s the buyer and how it’s being marketed, and you’ll typically make a better return.” – Tracy Sayler

return to top of page

   More about Sunflower ►