Canada's Sunflower Seed Industry
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual broadleaf plant that can be successfully grown in most regions of Canada. It is the only oilseed native to the northern Great Plains of North America and has been grown commercially in Canada since the early 1940s.
Canada produces both confectionery and oilseed varieties of sunflower seed, and is a competitive partner in the growing international market for this special crop. Confectionary seed is usually more striped and somewhat larger than the black shelled oilseed varieties. The hardy sunflower has a wide range of uses, from the confectionary and baking industries, to the birdseed industry, and to the animal feed industry.
Sunflower grows best on loam, silty loam, and silty clay loam soils with good drainage and low salinity. It has a deep tap root that can obtain water and nutrients from deep in the soil. Because of this root system, sunflowers are very adaptable and can be harvested even after an early snowfall, without reduction in quality. This adaptability makes them a viable alternative and rotational crop to traditional grains in the southern parts of the Canadian Prairies.
Most sunflower research in Canada is done by the private sector, with some government research conducted in Brooks, Winnipeg, and Morden in Manitoba. Shorter season varieties have been developed for areas where traditional hybrid species cannot be grown. Sunola™ is a miniature, open pollinated sunflower developed at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Centre in Saskatoon. Its oil content is equal to the best sunflower hybrids. Sunwheat™ is a dwarf hybrid sunflower; its oil content is slightly lower than Sunola™. It is more suited to the arid areas and able to withstand periods of summer heat better than some other crops. NuSun™ is another variety of sunflower developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that has a low saturated fat profile. The National Sunflower Association of Canada is also testing new varieties as well as managing growth in production and processing.
Sunflower seeds contain almost every vitamin (except Vitamin C) and substantial amounts of key minerals, including magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc. In addition, the protein content of sunflower seeds is high, and they can serve as a meat substitute. The confectionery variety is considered to be one of the healthiest snack foods available. The majority of the oilseed variety of sunflower seed are crushed after the hull is removed. The oil is used for frying or to produce salad dressings, shortening, and margarine. The meal is used as a protein supplement in livestock feed as it usually contains about 35 percent protein.
Products and Uses
There is a growing market for Canadian-grown sunflower seed. The birdseed market, for Canadian-grown sunflower seeds, is growing at an annual rate of 10% in North America. Oil sunflower seeds are marketed primarily to the North American birdseed industry and include bulk shipments as well as cleaned and bagged products. Confectionery sunflower seeds are popular in Canada and in many countries in the western hemisphere. Confectionery sunflower seeds fall into three categories: in shell, kernel, and birdseed. Larger sunflower seeds (in shell) are roasted, salted, and packaged for human consumption and are classified as either large or jumbo. Medium-sized seeds (kernel) are de-hulled and packaged for human consumption as well. These are primarily used for the bakery industry, but are also traded domestically and exported. Smaller seeds, known as
"striped bird food," are sold in North American birdseed markets.
The black-shelled oilseed variety is richer in oil and therefore better suited to the production of sunflower oil. Compared with other vegetable oils and animal fats, the oil in sunflower seed is very high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it easily digestible and provides a good option when choosing cooking oil, particularly if high cholesterol is a concern.
Source: Forecast based on August-July crop year, Market Analysis Division, Strategic Policy Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, September 20, 2006.
Sunflower Seed Statistics
For the latest market information and analysis available from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, please consult the following publications:
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives
Other Crops: Sunflower
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs