Despite the decline in sunflower seed production over the past few years, the world is set to harvest a bumper crop in the 2016/17 production season. Recent estimates from SUNSEEDMAN, a Turkish based consulting group, suggest that 2016/17 global sunflower seed production could reach 48 million tons, which would be a 14% year-on-year (y/y) increase and the highest volume in the past 5-years. This comes after an 8% y/y increase in area plantings to 27.5 million hectares.

The Black Sea region is set to be the key driver of this expected production uptick, particularly Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine alone is set to produce a 29% share of the global sunflower seed crop (14 million tons of an expected 48 million tons). This would be a 17% y/y production increase, largely driven by an 11% y/y increase in area plantings to 6.15 million hectares. Russia is the second largest global sunflower seed producer, with 2016/17 production estimated at 11 million tons— up by 10% from the previous season. This too will follow after an expected 5% y/y increase in area plantings to 7.75 million hectares.

South America also forms part of this expected production increase, with Argentina being at the forefront of the region in terms of contribution. The country’s 2016/17 sunflower seed production is estimated at 4 million tons — up by 40% from the previous season — largely on the back of a 48% increase in area plantings to 2 million hectares. This is motivated, in part, by recent agricultural market deregulations which have seen the Argentinian sunflower seed industry relaxing export taxes, thus making is easier for farmers to produce for export markets.

China is set to be the fourth largest sunflowerseed producer in the 2016/17 production season, with an overall crop estimated at 2.5 million tons — up by 4% from the previous season. This is owing to marginal increases in area plantings.

Eastern Europe is also set to see widespread increases in 2016/17 sunflowerseed production, with Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary’s crop estimated at 1.85 million tons (up by 3% y/y), 1.8 million tons (up by 6% y/y) and 1.8 million tons (up by 16% y/y), respectively.

Turkey, France, Spain, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Serbia are also within the top 15 global sunflower seed producers, with 2016/17 crop estimates at 1.35 million tons, 1.225 million tons, 725 000 tons, 700 000 tons, 550 000 tons and 550 000 tons, respectively.

South Africa, the only country in Africa that features within the top 15 global sunflower seed producers, is ranked at number 11 and forms a 2% share of global production at 48 million tons. In the 2015/16 production season, South Africa’s sunflower seed crop reached 755 000 tons— up by 14% from the previous season due to a 25% increase in area plantings to 718 500 hectares.

In 2016/17 production season, SUNSEEDMAN estimates that the area plantings could fall by 10% y/y to 650 000 hectares due to competition from other crops such as white maize. However, yields improvement could compensate for the expected fall in area, with overall 2016/17 production placed at 850 000 tons.

Although it is still early days for one to be too sure about the next season, the past few weeks have seen widespread showers across many provinces of South Africa. Weather forecasters have also been predicting above normal rainfall around mid-summer, increasing chances of a good crop in the 2016/17 season.

In the end, all of these developments will have implications on prices both globally and here in South Africa. Farmers must therefore be aware of these emerging trends.

Wandile Sihlobo, Head: Agribusiness Research, Agbiz
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