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The Better Sunflower e-Newsletter is provided with the support of the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF), Australian Sunflower Association (ASA) & the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC).
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Sunflowers at Australian Summer Grains Conference 2016

This edition of the Better Sunflowers newsletter is dedicated to the sunflower industry’s presence at the 2016 Australian Summer Grains Conference (ASGC) at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast on 7–9 March.

Tony Lockrey, Belinda Chase and Meg Kummerow represented the Australian Sunflower Association on the ASGC 2016 Organising Committee to bring together over 400 delegates with special interests in sorghum, maize, sunflowers, mungbean and soybean.

The ASA nominated Belinda Chase, Dalby Rural Supplies for the Zoe McInnes Memorial Award for Experienced Agronomists and we congratulate Belinda on being selected as Runner-up for this prestigious award. ASA committee member Paul McIntosh was on the judging panel for this award and ably officiated with the award presentation at the Gala Dinner event. Neil Weier received the sunflower industry service award—more on that below.

Trevor Born from KB Ornamentals in the Lochyer Valley provided the beautiful blooms for the ASA and USQ stands. Thank you so much for your generosity, Trevor, they provided such lovely colour and were an excellent talking point for visitors to the stands.

There were seven presentations made with direct application to the sunflower industry and of course the plenary sessions were of great interest and value to all working in the agricultural sector.
  • From Hells Gate to the Garden of Eden - the rotational fit of sunflower across northern NSW: Tony Lockrey/Nathan Ensbey (summary below)
  • Australian Sunflower Demand Tom Curtain (summary below)
  • Path to Growth and Prosperity: Australian Sunflower Industry Update: Liz Alexander (summary below)
  • IT Sunflowers in Australian cropping systems Vikki Osten, Chris Haire, Richard Holzknecht (next edition)
  • Sunflower nutrition and irrigation bringing growers and white peg trials closer together: Loretta Serafin and Roland Hornick (next edition)
  • Sunflower - what is the cost of losing your leaves? Loretta Serafin (next edition)
  • Success with sunflowers: Experience from the field Mark Rohrich (case study below)
Contact Better Sunflower Coordinator, Alicia Dunbar on 0419 649 988 or

Sunflower industry thanks Neil Weier

At the Australian Summer Grains Conference the Australian Sunflower Association formally recognised and thanked Neil Weier for his significant contribution to the sunflower industry over more than 40 years in the seed business.

A ‘Clifton boy through and through’, Neil’s first job was with Cargill where he started as a self-described ‘nobody’, and worked his way up to be seed manager. Neil subsequently held positions as seed manager at Grainco, Pioneer and the Packer group GRLM.

From 1998 to 2002 Neil worked at Grainco, where he recalls the highs of working with some excellent landholder directors and the lows of wrangling with too many ‘middle manager handbrakes’. In this role, Neil was integral to pulling together plant technology from a number of bodies including the NSW oilseed board and ABB to create a progressive seed business within the statutory organisation. This was led by Grainco’s first CEO Ian White, who Neil credits as being one of the best people he has ever worked with.

In 2003 Neil and Greg Wallwork partnered to create a new Australian summer crops seed breeding company – Lefroy Seeds. To achieve this, Neil was pivotal in bringing a group of agricultural investors together to support the concept of creating a new sunflower and sorghum seed breeding company in Australia.

Neil became a founding shareholder, taking on the operational role of Marketing Director from 2003. He was responsible for development of sorghum and sunflower in Australia, overseeing the hybrid seed production activities of the company, and also international business development.
Neil travelled to China, Thailand, India and Pakistan in this role and throughout his many overseas visits he was a highly professional advocate of the sunflower and sorghum industries, promoting their value to farmers and distributors alike.

Neil has regularly and frequently traversed crop growing regions of Australia and Asia, and made many, many friends. Throughout his travels, Neil accumulated a keen understanding and appreciation of different cultures, developing an uncanny ability to build bridges, trust and professional friendships, not only with Australian farmers and distributors but also with those from vastly different cultural customs and languages. This innate skill has been incredibly valuable to the sunflower industry.

Following the divestment of Lefroy Seeds to Nuseed in 2008, Neil has focused on the market development of Nuseed’s sorghum and sunflower portfolio within Australia. Neil has been a great mentor to many of his younger colleagues within the organisation and the wider industry, freely sharing his knowledge of seed production, marketing and his deep general understanding and passion for the sunflower industry. This has earnt him the title of ‘youngest person in the office’.
As a condition of the sale of Lefroy Seeds, Neil was to stay at Nufarm for 5 years, but 8 years has already passed by our account. Neil and his family, Jill and Emily, have purchased their own piece of paradise west of Dayboro at Mt Pleasant, where they are only 45 minutes away from Neil and Jill’s first and only grandchild Albury, and his parents Josh and Lauren.
The ASA thanks Neil for his outstanding service and investment in the sunflower industry—and its people—and wishes him a great year as he nears retirement.

New Better Sunflowers resources now available

The following resources have recently been published and are available on the Better Sunflowers website:  
Follow the links to download an electronic copy or contact the Better Sunflowers Coordinator if you need a printed copies of these resources.

Contact Better Sunflower Coordinator, Alicia Dunbar on 0419 649 988 or

The rotational fit of sunflower across northern NSW

A presentation by Tony Lockrey and Nathan Ensbey at ASGC 2016

Nathan and Tony presented data from two trials that have investigated the gross margin contribution and rotational effect of a number of summer crops, including sunflower, in two locations in northern NSW.

Nathan reported on a trial that was conducted on the highly productive southern Liverpool Plains on Joe Fleming’s Blackville property in 2013/14. This trial was conducted as part of the ‘Pulse Agronomy in northern farming systems’ project that is looking at how much nitrogen soybean crops fix and the benefits of pulses in rotation with sorghum and sunflower.

The gross margin results from the 2013/14 season favoured sorghum and mungbean. Sorghum and sunflower were considered higher risk than the soybean crops given the higher input costs.

In the following summer when sorghum was sown across the trial plots, the highest gross margin was from the plots previously sown to sunflower. Sorghum following sorghum was the lowest yielding of all systems.

Tony’s presentation discussed the results of sunflower and sorghum trials conducted west of Moree in the 2013/14 summer under very harsh growing conditions.

These trials tested the crop gross margins, rotational benefits and risk strategies during extreme climatic conditions where very low summer rainfall and extreme temperatures combined to deliver record transpiration rates.

Sunflower produced a positive gross margin at both the trial plot ($672) and commercial scale ($324), significantly outperforming sorghum. In these conditions sunflower had a slight advantage due to the crop’s earlier finish.

Sunflower brings economic and agronomic value to the Northern NSW cropping system, which is best seen when gross margins are calculated across several years.

Long fallow cropping systems need to make a lot of money with a few crops. On the Liverpool Plains, Joe Fleming is seeing the value of double cropping their main cereal program following a summer crop to increase gross margins across the rotation.

Cumulative gross margins across several years show sunflower is a good fit rotational crop in both harsher and milder growing conditions.

Contact Tony Lockrey, Consulting agronomist AMPS Moree on 0428 529 001 or and Nathan Ensbey, Technical officer (soybean agronomy) NSW DPI Grafton on 02 6640 1647 or email  

Australian sunflower demand

A presentation by Tom Curtain at ASGC 2016

USDA figures show that global oilseed production has been increasing rapidly over recent years, predominantly due to increased production of soybean and canola around the world. This increased production is occurring mainly in soybean from South America and canola from Europe and Canada.

Production in most other oilseed producing countries, including Australia, has stayed relatively stable over recent years. Sunflower production has seen an increase in Ukraine, Russia and Argentina while remaining steady in most other countries. Demand for sunflower oil is increasing due to health benefits associated with the high oleic oil for human consumption and the value of the sunflower meal in ruminant rations.

Demand in Australia remains strong and oil processors require a steady and guaranteed supply. The main buyers are using sunflower oil in a wide range of applications including infant milk formula, taco shells, potato crisps, pet food and in oil blends used for frying in fast food chain restaurants.

Imported oil, predominantly from the Ukraine and Argentina, is the main competition for Australian crushers. Import parity is calculated each day, taking into account supply chain costs, freight and the foreign exchange.

In 2013/14 a smaller than anticipated Australian crop put great pressure on manufacturers. European supply was also lower than normal due to hot conditions and so they became a net importer rather than net exporter, drawing sunflower oil from Argentina to fill their own supply needs.

The oilseed crushing market prefers Australian grain as it is generally a higher quality seed, meaning less processing is required, which in turn keeps the transfats component low. Sunflower seed can be crushed at two different facilities and capacity is not a limited factor for Australian sunflower oil production. These facilities have the capacity to produce ‘Australian-grown’ oil if the consumer was to request such a product.

Although Australian sunflower seed attracts a premium, the long-term agreements that protect the consumers from lack of supply have now eroded away much of the premium that had been available in previous years.

With growing demand there is an opportunity for Australian growers and crush to limit imported oil via increased domestic production. The crush complex has capacity to increase sunflower volumes if domestic production was available.
Contact Tom Curtain, Oilseeds merchant grain and oilseed supply chain Australia, Cargill on 0419 979 247 or  

Path to growth and prosperity: Australian Sunflower Industry Strategic Plan Update

A presentation by Liz Alexander at ASGC 2016

Former Better Sunflower Coordinator and Plan author Liz Alexander spoke about the progress toward achieving the goals set out in the Australian Sunflower Industry Strategic Plan 2013–2018. The Plan had a core purpose: Grow production to meet domestic oil and feed demand every year. The Industry reasoned that greater availability of inputs, markets and industry capacity would flow as a consequence, and recognised that production would only increase if growers were confident that sunflower was a profitable crop.

A driver for increased production lies in the continued rise in domestic demand for sunflower oil, with 50 per cent or more of this demand filled with imported product. Continuity of local supply is a significant barrier that cannot be solved quickly. Beyond managing production and cost recovery risks, end users and processors who have moved to source imported product often contract across a number of years to gain cost efficiencies for ship demurrage, storage and freight.

Ranked as most important by growers and advisers nationally, the key goal for the Plan is to leverage breeding work being done overseas to support the introduction of new traits and disease resistant lines. The ASA’s immediate focus has been to bring the imidazolinone (Spinnaker®) tolerant hybrids to commercialisation.

In 2016, average national production has dropped below 40,000mt for the last three years, and a smaller number of hybrids are commercially available. A significant challenge remains for the Industry to demonstrate an attractive return on investment for commercial companies to consider developing and releasing hybrids and products.

However there have been moderate gains in plantings in a number of regions; central Queensland plantings have risen as growers become more confident with the performance of TSV resistant hybrids. There have also been modest increases in plantings in southern Queensland. Northern NSW has been very dry for the last few seasons and this is reflected in sown areas.

Another important fact to note is that despite the dry conditions, average yields across all regions for each year have not dropped below 1 t/ha with existing lines. Winning growers back to the industry is not going to be an easy task but is essential for the success of the industry.

The goals for growth set out by Industry in the strategic plan are unashamedly ambitious. Clearly the industry faces immediate challenges, but by continuing to work with its commercial and research partners towards its strategic goals, the ASA is positioned to unlock significant new opportunities for growers.

In February each year the ASA reviews progress toward these goals. A brief summary of achievements for each of the six industry priorities follows:

1. Strong partnerships
Each year, early and late crop forecasts are produced with assistance from NuSeed and Pacific Seeds. The Better Sunflowers database has more than doubled to over 900 people. The ASA enjoys the financial and technical support of GRDC and state agencies.

2. New varieties accessing international germplasm
Eagle Farm quarantine facility closed in 2012 and the ASA provided strong advocacy with government to support the prompt re-establishment of a private quarantine facility in 2014. One new hybrid has been commercialised since 2012 and imi-tolerant hybrids are currently under development using the imported germplasm – expected to be commercially available for the 2017/18 season.

Seed availability remains a challenge. In most years mono-unsaturated hybrids have dominated plantings except the 2015/16 season when there was greater interest in confectionary and birdseed lines than usual, due to early start to the season and higher prices.

ASA product registration group established and has been very successful. Chemistry options have been maintained, and applications for new registrations and permits have been successful such as Altacor® providing a soft option for grub control and glyphosate as a cheaper alternative for desiccation. Trial work has been submitted for the renewal of the TILT250EC® permit.

3. Removal of domestic barriers (market and infrastructure)
In the 2013/14 season AWB Cargill offered local grain testing and storage facilities at Emerald and Moura however these facilities were not used due to the seasonal conditions and so were not made available in the following seasons.

ASA has worked to increase market awareness for all in the industry with information available on and the Australian Sunflower Marketing Guide for Growers has been produced and sent to over 20 000 potential growers each year.
Accessing oil quality information remains problematic due to issues of commercial in-confidence, but some information has been shared to industry members attending the Crush tours held in Narrabri and Newcastle supported by Cargill, AWB and GRDC.

4. Investment in research, development and extension
Adequate resourcing is not yet available to provide regionally-based sunflower capacity to deliver R,D & E, however progress has been made to provide growers and advisors with crop management and skills development through GRDC funded, targeted research. This includes important research in the areas of N, K, P & S and irrigation management lead by Loretta Serafin NSW DPI.

Several new extension materials have been produced with GRDC support that provide growers with the best management practice guidelines for sunflower production.

5. Managing and reducing disease risks
USQ and DAF researchers Sue Thompson and Murray Sharman have worked to remove the negative disease associations of sunflower through multi-crop varietal trials to measure break crop strategies for Phomopsis, TSV hybrid tolerance trials, and the development of a number of extension materials such as the Tips and Tactics disease management products.
6. Ensuring ASA is a healthy organisation
The ASA is a lean but effective association that has rallied support and focused the efforts of many researchers, growers, marketers and advisors to enable the industry to move forward through challenging seasonal conditions.

The Australian Sunflower Industry Strategic Plan 2013–2018 is available on the Better Sunflowers website.

Contact Blue Dog Agribusiness principal consultant, Liz Alexander on 0429 471 511 or

Grower case study: Mark Rohrich, North Dakota, USA

A presentation by Mark Rohrich at ASGC 2016
The Rohrich family has been growing sunflowers on their farm near Ashley, North Dakota, USA for over 20 years, employing no-till practices and crop rotation to gain the greatest benefits from sunflowers within their production system.
Rotation: sunflowers – spring wheat – soybeans – corn
Hybrids: NuSun & High-oleic (Clearfield)
Sowing time: 20 May – 15 June. Start season with ‘burn down’ using sulfentrazone, sometimes as a split application with insecticide for cutworms.
Plant density: 56–61 thousand plants/ha.
Row spacing: 30-inch no-till planting inter-row between corn stalks.
Nutrition: 10 units N for every 90 kg/ha yield. In-furrow liquid phosphorus starter.
Crop protection: Address weeds using the herbicide tolerance of the crop. Use downy mildew resistant hybrids. Apply fungicide, insecticide and herbicide as single application where possible.
Yields: average 1.7 t/ha.
Harvest: Pre-harvest desiccation allows cutting the sunflowers low without adding green matter to the harvested material. Mark’s brother has built a modified header front using muffler pipes with the ends closed off to help pick up heads that have lodged.
Markets: Harvest mid-October to early December. 50% sold at harvest, 50% stored for delivery between March and July.
Agronomist: Mark is also a commercial agronomist.
Mark Rohrich grows 320 ha of sunflowers, along with soybean, corn and spring wheat, with his father and brother. In 2012, Mark became a partner and agronomist at Maverick Ag in Ashley, North Dakota, specialising in agronomy advice, agricultural products and seed, and both ground and aerial spraying services.

The Rohrich farming system uses sunflower to take up nitrogen left after corn, provide a deep tap-rooted broadleaf break that also allows the use of different herbicide modes of action. Sunflower has also provided consistent returns through a stable market.

Although 2015 was a great year for sunflower production there have been a number of yield-limiting factors that have had an impact on the industry in the United States over the past four years.

Sunflower production in the USA began in the 1960s and peaked in 1979 at around 2.3 million ha. Since then their share of the global market has declined as more countries, including Australia, started to grow sunflowers and US growers diversified into alternate crops. This resulted in a 60 per cent decline in the industry in the 1980s. In 2015 the total sown area was 687 thousand ha and 75 per cent of the crop was oilseed. 2015 was a record high production year for growers in North Dakota where the average yield was around 1.9 t/ha, up 8% on 2014 oilseed production.

Disease, spaces within the row and drought were the main yield-limiting factors in 2015. Sunflower research in the USA is focused on:
  • Disease: phomosis stem canker, rust, downey mildew, sclerotinia, rhizopus head rot
  • Weeds: addressing resistance, testing new innovations, new herbicide traits (Triazine)
  • Insects: evaluate IPM, sunflower head month, banded sunflower moth, red seed weevil, lygus bug, dectes stem borer, wireworms, etc.
  • Production issues: birds, better stands, lodging, fertility evaluation, irrigation
  • Quality: improve oil profiles

Mark’s brother has built a modified header front using muffler pipes with the ends closed off to help pick up heads that have lodged.

Contact Mark Rohrich by email or on social media @sunflowerfarmer (Twitter & Instagram), Rohrich Farms (Facebook) or

Get ready for harvest

Harvesting sunflowers can be challenging but, with attention to detail, a high quality sample can be achieved. In all markets, a quality sample is required, with discounts applied if the admixture is over 4% in the oilseed market and in the birdseed market there is a reluctance to purchase the product if it is not a clean bright sample.

Identifying physiological maturity
Physiological maturity occurs when the maximum seed weight has been reached. The crop can be harvested once sufficient dry down has occurred, where the seed moisture content is suitable for storage or delivery.

Physiological maturity is identified when the bracts surrounding the sunflower head change to brown. The seed moisture content at physiological maturity is usually between 30–40% and the crop is suitable for desiccation to aid in quicker dry down.

Pre-harvest desiccation can increase harvest speeds, reduce admixture in the grain sample and reduce the seed set of late ripening weeds. Diquat is the only herbicide registered for pre-harvest desiccation in sunflowers. An emergency use permit (PER13118) is in place for the use of glyphosate for pre-harvest desiccation and weed control in sunflowers (this permit has been extended to 31 March 2021).

Harvest timing
The receival standard for moisture is 9%. Often, crops are not harvested until the moisture content is much lower, around 5–6%, which represents lost yield. Aim to harvest and deliver as close as possible to 9% moisture. Harvesting above 9% moisture will increase the risk of fire in storage.

Harvesting at low moisture contents (< 6%) may cause an increase in admixture as the plant stalks and heads become dry and brittle, easily shattering into small pieces. This added trash is difficult to separate from the seed and penalties apply for excess admixture.
Commence harvest when some 5–10% of heads are still soft (some cream colour on the back). This will reduce trash levels and enable a faster harvest speed. Don’t wait until all heads are black as low moisture levels may cause harvest difficulties.

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to check the header set up and make sure the grain handling and storage equipment and facilities are clean. Always store sunflowers ‘clean and dry’.

Check these great resources for more detailed information:  Contact Better Sunflower Coordinator, Alicia Dunbar on 0419 649 988 or

In the news

Sugarcane and sunflower rotation on ABC's Landline program. 
Sunflowers lap up summer rain
Sunflowers in the community
The ASA sponsored first prize in the Emerald Sunflower Easter Festival art contest themed ‘Growing the Highlands’. The annual festival celebrated its 40th year and hails back to the glory days when sunflower where a major crop in Central Queensland. Young, local artist Jase Moore's entry, ‘Sunflower’, was constructed out of a diff hub, trashworker feet, tynes and cutter bar fingers and crop lifters and cutter bar knives and attracted the eye of the judges. Huge congratulations to the Emerald Art Group for hosting the event!

If you come across an article in your daily reading that highlights sunflowers then please email the link to Better Sunflower Coordinator, Alicia Dunbar
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