Russia and Ukraine produce 60% of the world’s sunflower oil. The Ukrainian Electronic Grain Exchange says that, despite war and a cold, wet spring delaying planting, Ukraine and Russia will produce more sunflowers this year than last. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has halted Ukraine’s exports and hindered Russia’s, and the global shortage is driving up sunflower oil prices.
Our own spate of wintry weather is giving some farmers time to change plans and plant sunflowers, but planting decisions can’t turn on a dime. Not all South Dakota farmers can cash in on global demand because planting sunflowers would mess up their crop rotation:
But even with the current spike in sunflower markets, there are no indications that South Dakota farmers will plant more acres to sunflowers. In fact, the USDA Prospective Planting Report indicated 2022 sunflower acres are down slightly from the annual average.
This has to do largely with the science of crop rotations. To reduce weed and disease pressure farmers rotate the crops they plant in their fields each season, explains fourth-generation Roscoe farmer, Allen Beyers.
“On our farm, where we would plant wheat, we would follow wheat with corn, and then, corn with either sunflowers or soybeans. If we plant sunflowers, we would rotate sunflowers back to wheat. If we plant soybeans, we would rotate soybean ground back to either wheat or corn, but typically, we would never plant sunflowers on soybean ground or sunflowers on sunflower ground, just because it is not a sound agronomic practice. … It’s a fairly large thought process. I think that is the overwhelming issue. It is not just about this year, it’s about next year and the year after,” Beyers says [Lura Roti, “South Dakota 2022 Sunflower Acres Not Following Price Increase,” SDPB, 2022.04.14].
Sunflowers use more water than other crops, so the farmers who are able to fit sunflowers into this year’s rotation (and who are willing to gamble on sunflowers amidst the current moisture deficit) will need to plant less water-intensive crops next year or leave their fields fallow to let their soil recharge.