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Sunflowers new choice for drought, variety

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

    Because of the increased acreage of some commodities in the Midwest and the Dakotas, other non-traditional crops, like sunflowers, are beginning to take a bigger hold in places like Wyoming.
    As a part of this, the Yoder Grain Elevator of Yoder recently made the decision to contract with Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) to handle sunflower seeds.
    “The reason we got into it is because I think it’s the new thing going,” says elevator owner Larry Cottier. “Our country has traditionally been wheat and wheat, but they’ve found out that by doing that there are more diseases in the ground and using sunflowers is one way to get rid of that.”
    He says there’s a lot of rye in the area, which causes a lot of problems, but with the sunflowers, being a spring crop, the rye will start to come up in the spring and it can be tilled out before sunflower planting.
    This fall will be the first year the elevator has taken in sunflowers. From Yoder they’ll head to Kansas to be pressed for oil. Most sunflowers grown in Wyoming are for oil production, rather than confection.
    Lonny Eisenbarth, who farms southwest of Yoder, has been producing sunflowers for eight years already. “We have a shortage of water here, and they seem to do well under lower irrigation,” he says.
    Last season Eisenbarth experimented with canola and juncea, which were supposed to also tolerate drought. “The heat hit them at flowering and wrecked them, while the sunflowers made about 2,000 pounds under the same water conditions.”
    Eisenbarth contracts his sunflowers with ADM at 30 cents per pound. An aspect of the contracts that sunflower producers like is an Act of God clause. With that clause, according to the company, if there’s a disaster you don’t have to deliver.
    Eisenbarth says confections are harder to take care of with insects and irrigation. “Oils are a lot easier and don’t take near the management. Also, you’re at the mercy of the confection buyers in seed size.”
    In the past ADM brought semi trucks into the area to collect the grain, which meant producers had to have enough seeds ready simultaneously to fill a truck. “This will make it a lot easier for them because they’ll unload their crop here, then the semis will load out of the elevator and head east,” says Cottier.
    In addition to more sunflower oil production from Wyoming, Cottier says another benefit is sunflower meal. “After they take the oil out of these seeds, what’s left is pelleted and sold into the livestock industry,” he says. “We can have products shipping both ways.”
    “The climate seems to be agreeable with them,” says Cottier of the crop. His elevator will put aside a 30,000-bushel bin this fall. “Hopefully there’s a lot more than that. As we fill they’ll have trucks come to haul it out, and we figure that will work.”
    “There are more sunflowers coming on in the area, and more should be doing it,” says Cottier.
    According to Eisenbarth, regular farm equipment works for sunflower production. He says combining is a little different, but if a farmer grows corn he’s already set up.
    Some late-season varieties can be planted as late as July 15, and ADM is still contracting for sunflowers this season under the Act of God clause through the end of July, and cash contracts will be available after that.
    “Call our office,” says ADM’s Northern Sun Merchandiser Joni Wilson when asked about how a producer can get started in sunflowers. “We’ve got a full-time agronomist and we can help on the marketing end as well.”
    Wilson says sunflower markets have been doing really well and that they’re at historical highs. “Sunflowers are in competition for acreage with other crops, and everything else is at historical highs. The demand for sunflower oil is also very high domestically, which has not been the case in the past. People are now looking for a healthy oil, and sunflower oil can fill that need.”
    For more information about contracting sunflowers for this season or next, contact Archer Daniels Midland Company at 785-899-6500. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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