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Sunflowers: Focus should shift to high-oil cultivars


Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The Oil and Protein Seeds Development Trust and Oilseeds Advisory Committee recently hosted a sunflower symposium at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Convention Centre in Pretoria. During the event, Prof Ferdi Meyer of the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) explored whether Africa can find the sweet spot between high oil content and high yields in sunflowers.

Sunflower is the most significant oilseed crop in South Africa, with almost the entire local crop being processed into sunflower oil. Oil-type seeds of this crop contain 38 to 50% oil and approximately 20% protein.

According to BFAP, South Africa’s sunflower oil consumption has increased by 28% over the last decade, with a further 28% increase predicted by 2030. Although slower than the previous decade, it remains significant. Since domestic consumption is projected to remain higher than production, South Africa will continue to be a net importer of crude sunflower oil.

Meyer noted that while global sunflower production has doubled from 25 million tons to 50 million tons over the past 20 years, South Africa’s sunflower crop has remained flat. He suggests that if producers can achieve good yields, sunflowers can be more viable than maize.

“However, South Africa’s cost to produce a ton of sunflowers is higher than the global average,” he says. Additionally, the oil content of sunflowers has decreased over time, making it less economically viable for the crushing industry. The challenge is balancing the crushing industry’s need for higher oil content with the farmers’ need for higher yields.

The focus on high oil content in South Africa

According to Charles Basson, sunflower breeder at Syngenta, 99,1% of sunflowers processed in South Africa is for oil and oil cake, while the remainder is used in feed. While the country’s sunflower yield remained stable from 2016 to 2020, oil content decreased as farmers continued to select for yield rather than oil content. This highlights the potential for high-oil seeds in South Africa.

Unlike countries such as the United States, where a premium is paid for each percentage point of oil content above 40%, South Africa does not currently have a standard for premiums for higher oil yields. However, good-quality sunflower hybrids can help increase sunflower production in South Africa.

Read more about the factors that influence seed set in sunflowers.

Meyer suggests that the industry should consider high-oil sunflower cultivars and the feasibility of offering a 1,5% premium for each 1% of oil content above 38%. – Elmarie Helberg, AgriOrbit

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