Sunflower seeds are utilized by extra than simply ballplayers in America’s dugouts. They’re a worldwide commodity disrupted by the struggle in Ukraine, the place the flower is so important it is a nationwide image.
On Monday at Cargill’s West Fargo plant, sunflower oil, pressed from the seeds, was selling for $40 per hundredweight. A yr in the past January, bids of $20 drew headlines. It is the identical story for confectionary sunflowers.
The rationale? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These two nations alone produce about 60% of the the world’s sunflower oil. Along with neighboring former Soviet states, comparable to Bulgaria and Romania, the Black Sea area produces greater than 30 million tons of sunflowers — far and away the world’s lion-share.
The hulled nut meat of sunflower seeds are sometimes sprinkled on salads or tossed into path mixes, whereas less-than-perfect seeds fill birdseed canisters. However it’s within the huge enterprise of sunflower cooking oil — splashing round frying pans from house kitchens to fish n’ chip outlets internationally — the place the worth results are most pronounced.
And identical to different commodities, comparable to corn and soybeans, bids for sunflowers have shot larger since Putin’s military crossed into Ukraine.
“They’re all in demand proper now,” mentioned John Swanson, who grows sunflowers yearly on his Polk County land close to Maple Lake.
Swanson, who serves as chair of the Minnesota Sunflower Council, says farmers typically gravitate towards corn or soybeans for the upper worth at market.
“Now,” he mentioned, “sunflowers have gotten fairly aggressive.”
Filling that hole has fallen to different producers, together with many within the U.S. sunflower belt. Swanson says it is unlikely different farmers will experiment with planting sunflowers in a area already put aside for one more crop, like wheat. However an present sunflower grower, with the suitable gear, may plant extra of the crop over the subsequent month.
“Someone who did 500 acres may take into consideration doing 800 this yr,” mentioned Swanson.
There’s another excuse sunflowers could also be interesting to farmers in 2022: a shrinking rising season. As moist situations press into mid-Could, some might look favorably on a crop that may face up to colder temperatures within the fall.
“The earliest folks would begin placing sunflowers within the floor can be the center of Could or so,” mentioned Dave Franzen, an extension soil specialist with North Dakota State College. He additionally notes sunflowers, relative to corn or soybeans, want much less fertilizer, which has driven up input costs for farmers.
After which there’s that worth once more.
“I by no means thought sunflowers would get above thirty cents a pound,” Franzen mentioned.
Helianthus annuus, which might attain into drier soils for water with deep root methods, have lengthy been a staple of the Dakotas and excessive plains. However Minnesota has held onto the third spot in sunflower-producing states.
Thirty miles south of the Canadian border in Kittson County, Tom Dowdle’s land and tradition are completely different from fellow Minnesotans in additional southern areas of the state. He follows the Winnipeg Jets hockey crew and was happy to see temperatures above freezing this week.
He additionally often crops between 900 and 1,500 acres of sunflowers on his farm exterior Kennedy and sells Pioneer Hybrid sunflower seed to different farmers.
“I do not see anyone switching in my geography,” mentioned Dowdle. “However I’ve clients who’re going to be planting a number of extra acres this yr.”
Dowdle typically sells oils to Cargill’s crushing plant in West Fargo or to a birdseed meals processor, D&D Commodities, in neighboring Stephen.
“We largely purchase in-state as a lot as we will,” mentioned D&D’s buying supervisor Jerry Grochowski, who has labored on the firm for 40 years. The corporate buys off a secondary marketplace for seeds discolored by roasters referred to as a “darkish depend.”
“The birds do not discover the distinction,” Grochowski mentioned.
In Pierz, Tom Smude operates his own seed-to-store business, rising and crushing sunflower seeds into oils which can be bottled and offered at retailers like Cub Meals or utilized by eating places like Isles Bun & Espresso in Minneapolis.
Smude wants almost 9,000 acres of sunflowers to fill his darkish yellow bottles of cooking oils and has relied on a contractor in Rogers to provide what he cannot develop.
“He is been discovering seed for us,” mentioned Smude on Monday. “However now it is getting robust as a result of everyone’s making an attempt to hold onto it, making an attempt to make a killing.”
Smude additionally retains glancing on the information, worrying that Putin’s marketing campaign in Ukraine might need long-term ramifications on more and more expensive commodity markets, together with sunflowers.
“You simply do not see extra acres,” mentioned Smude. “It is type of scary.”