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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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  • The Future of Sunflowers, Green Meeting Room, Toowoomba DAF (DPI) Complex, Tuesday 20 September, 9 am to 2 pm – more details contact Alicia Dunbar


What is the future for the Australian sunflower industry?

The Australian Sunflower Association invites all members of the supply chain to participate in an open and urgent discussion about the future of the Australian sunflower industry. The meeting will be held on Tuesday 20 September at the Toowoomba DAF (DPI) Complex, Green Meeting Room from 9 am to 2 pm.

A combination of low plantings, low oil prices, reduced participation in sunflower breeding and the end of GRDC funding for the Australian Break Crop Initiative places the industry in a critical situation.

Growers, researchers, food and feed processors, the seed industry, merchandising organisations and agronomic advisers are all strongly urged to attend. Your involvement will help formulate a strategy to assist the Association and other industry members to keep sunflowers as a valued crop option in Australia’s agricultural production systems.

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

Seed and hybrid availability for 2016/17

Maturity, end-use requirement, yielding ability (seed and oil), disease tolerance, head inclination, height and good agronomic type should be considered when selecting a hybrid. However, seed availability will be the determining factor for many growers this season. Hybrids available for the 2016–2017 season are:

Hybrid Ausigold 62 Ausistripe 14 Sunbird 7
End use Monounsaturated Confectionary / Bird seed Confectionary / Bird seed
Maturity Medium Medium Medium
Height Medium Medium–tall Medium–tall
Head inclination Semi-erect Semi-erect Semi-pendulous
Rust resistance High High High
Alternaria Resistance Moderate Moderate Moderate–High
Tobacco Streak Virus Tolerance Very good Good Moderately susceptible

(2015 Big Yellow Sunflower Pack Agronomy Module, Disease Module ;

Neil Weier, Nuseed Area Sales Manager, reports that monounsaturated hybrid Ausigold 62, “which has won everything bar the baby kissing competition at the Quinalow Show,” is in reasonable supply and that confectionary/bird seed hybrid Ausistripe 14 has good availability, both with good germination.

Pacific Seeds are able to supply Sunbird 7 after being out of the market for a number of years. Tony McCumstie, Territory Manager Liverpool Plains and Hunter Valley, says the company has good availability for growers considering the confectionary/bird seed market. The monounsaturated hybrid Hyoleic 41 is no longer available.

Be aware of the requirements for different markets

For the 2016 season and going forwards, AWB has notified the ASA that it will no longer provide a $15/ha seed rebate or a hectare based contract to grow monounsaturated sunflowers. AWB cites a lack of volume into the program and the increased global supply of sunflowers as the reasons for their decision.

However, while the oil market prices may not be encouraging, the birdseed and stock feed markets continue to provide a niche market opportunity for sunflower producers. Total domestic expenditure on all pet food is trending up, and was reported to be worth $10 billion (2015). In Britain and the United States, the premium natural pet food market is growing at 15 per cent per annum. Due to consistent demand, lacklustre oilseed pricing and the availability of a new hybrid, Australian sunflower production by seed type has changed dramatically since 2010, with the portion of confectionary/birdseed production rising from around 5 per cent in 2010 to 26 per cent of the total plant in 2015.

However, while prices reported for stock, birdseed and confectionary products remain lucrative compared to the crushing market, growers need to be aware of the different quality characteristics required by these specialised markets.

Dennis Ward, owner of AviGrain, a specialist birdseed and stockfeed manufacturer operating on the NSW Central Coast and Darling Downs, Queensland says the birdseed and horsefeed markets are looking for a clean, bright sample and want over 40 kg/hl test weight – “good heavy stuff.” He suggests growers talk to end users to understand the different quality requirements and that they are fully aware of the AOF/GTA CSBS 1 and CSBS 3 Standards.

“These markets don’t care about oil and won’t take anything under test weight unless they absolutely have to,” he said. “It’s worth considering agronomy up front and targeting plant populations and row configurations to meet the specialty market.”

Dennis explained that while premiums may be available for growers who can meet the specifications of the dehulling and feed markets, if the seed doesn’t meet specifications they may find there are few other market options available to sell their product.

2016 Sunflower Marketing Guide for Growers 

To support growers, the ASA and AOF maintain a register of all known buyers of Australian sunflowers, which is updated annually. Further information can be downloaded for each buyer's specific quality criterion, over and above GTA Standards, as well as current contact details in the 2016 Sunflower Marketing Guide for Growers on the website’s searchable database

Follow a sunflower crop on Facebook this season

Now adding to the suite of resources available on the Better Sunflowers website the new ASA Facebook blog and Instagram will follow the progress of ASA Committee member Roly Hornick’s spring sunflower crops throughout the season.

Hailing from “Willoughby”, at Orion via Springsure, Roland planted 200 ha of Ausigold 62 this season from the 3rd to 8th of August. Around 150 ha of the crop is planted to furrow irrigation, and the remaining 50 ha is raingrown.

Roland says he planted a little later than usual this year due to rain delays, but the crop has established very well and is powering away.

“At least once a week during the season, I’ll share crop development updates, cultural practices and any agronomic treatments on Instagram and Facebook”, he said. “We found army worms at threshold the other day, which we treated and I’m just about to load up the photos before and after treatment.”

Roland says he hopes to increase grower and agronomist interest in the crop. “Lots of people ask me ‘Is sunflower a viable spring option?’” he said. “Since sunflower is an important and profitable part of our tool box, I know the answer – I’m looking forward to sharing how we grow the crop, receiving questions and chatting to people during the season.” 

Follow Roly on

Secret Life of Fungi wins Publication Excellence Award

The winners for the USQ School-Specific Publication Excellence Awards for Journal Articles published during the period 1 January – 31 December 2015, were announced in April 2016.

ASA congratulates Committee member and summer crop research pathologist Sue Thompson, who won 3rd place for her published article "Green and brown bridges between crops and weeds reveal novel Diaporthe species in Australia".

Thompson, S.M.; Tan, Y.P.; Shivas, R.G.; Neate, S.M.; Morin, L.; Bissett, A.; Aitken, E.A.B. 2015, 'Green and brown bridges between weeds and crops reveal novel Diaporthe species in Australia', Persoonia - Molecular Phylogeny and Evolution of Fungi, Volume 35, December 2015

Sunflower champions announced

The ASA congratulates the students from Glasshouse Christian College, who took out the University of Queensland 2016 Sunflower Competition Grand Champion and ASA 'Heaviest Sunflower' awards with their giant sunflower weighing more than two kilograms. The whopping 2.023 kg sunflower topped a weigh-in at UQ Gatton campus on May 17, after 3000 high school students put their plant science skills to the test in the classroom.

Head of Agricultural Science at Glasshouse Christian College, Jade King said the winning team of Year 10 students used liquid-soluble fertiliser and applied their new knowledge of nutritional requirements of plants to grow the biggest sunflower.

A record number of schools (92) participated in the 2016 challenge, with a number of new schools taking part from as far away as Western Australia and Tasmania.

With the record 4.45 kg set by Mueller College in 2014 in their sights, students planted their sunflowers on February 23, experimenting with different soils, light regimes, water applications and fertilisers. Students had to consider environmental factors like weather and growing conditions in their region, and how these affected the sunflowers’ growth.

UQ’s Sunflower Competition, now in its 17th year, promotes the science behind agronomy and horticulture.

The competition is an interactive learning opportunity to encourage a new generation of plant scientists to uphold Australia’s position at the forefront of agricultural production. Teachers use the competition to deliver the science curriculum in a plant-based context.

The ASA congratulates all the winners and participants for 2016.

2016 Results

Overall ‘Heaviest’ Grand Champion
Glasshouse Christian College, 2.023 kg
Australian Sunflower Association ‘Heaviest’ Sunflower Category
Years 7 to 10

1st: Glasshouse Christian College, 2.023kg
2nd: St Edmunds College, 1.957kg
3rd: Pittsworth State High School, 1.924kg
Dow AgroSciences ‘Heaviest’ Sunflower Category
Years 11 and 12

1st: Marymount College, 1.871kg                                
2nd: Marymount College, 1.719kg                
3rd: Laidley State High School, 1.266kg
Tallest Sunflower Prize: St Edmunds College, 2.56m.
Most Ornamental Sunflower Prize: Laidley State High School
Encouragement Award 1: St Aidans Anglican Girls School
Encouragement Award 2: Dalby State High School

Contact Karli Kollegger, University of Queensland, phone 07  5460 1279, or 

USDA researcher reports on his visit to Australia

The top 5 things I learned visiting Australia — by Dr Sam Markell

After 30 hours of travel, this jet lagged, dehydrated and extremely excited Yank arrived at the Brisbane airport on Friday, April 8. USQ Summer Crops Pathologist Sue Thompson and retired USQ Field Crops Pathologist Mal Ryley met me in the terminal, gave me a hug, a bottle of water, and laid out a months-worth of travel plans that we needed to complete in half that time. The next two weeks, starting with a seminar at Gavin Ash’s CCH at USQ, and visiting farms, research stations and people in NSW and QLD would become the most memorable professional travel experience I have ever had. I am writing this article to share some of those experiences and say thanks to the dozens of people who welcomed me into their worlds. 

As a broad-leaf crops pathologist at North Dakota State University, my job is to develop disease management strategies on many crops, including sunflower, soybean, canola (oilseed rape), flax and pulse crops (dry edible beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils). North Dakota is only about one-tenth the size of Queensland but has a similar population density, with less than 700,000 people in the state and only one town over 100,000. Yes, it’s Fargo (where I live). And yes, it is a lot more like the movie than I would like to admit. Despite the smaller size, North Dakota commonly leads the United States in sunflower acreage, planting between 750,000 and 1,000,000 acres annually. 

I first met Thompson and Ryley several years ago when they visited North Dakota to collaborate on sunflower disease research efforts. They had shared many stories about the differences and similarities between the U.S. and Australia and I am excited to share what I learned with you. Below are the five most remarkable messages that I learned in my visit.

1. Completely different climate. North Dakota is located in the geographic center of North America (specifically, the town of Rugby), making its climate extremely continental. The average air temperature is below freezing for seven full months of the year, and -30 and -40 degree C nights in the winter will kill off even hardy plants. However, high temperatures in the 30 degrees are common in summer and its far Northern latitude means that summer light will last 16 hours or more. Unlike Australia, we have a very narrow window to grow a crop; if a grower plants a little too early or a little too late, the crop will likely freeze.

I still have a little trouble wrapping my head around the growing seasons in Queensland. At first, I thought the concept of two seasons (summer and winter crops) seemed like a fantastic opportunity, but I quickly realized that there were challenges in that system that we don’t face. Most notably, the precariously limited availability of water and abundant high heat that can challenge crop production. While North Dakota has a similar level of annual rainfall, our water is frozen solid for six months (in snow or frozen ground a meter or two deep), we essentially have twice as much available water. Consequently, one of the things I am most impressed about in Australian agriculture is your intelligent use of water and how you manage the crop with water in mind; the timing of planting, the number of rows you plant, etc… The trip has made me appreciate the piles of snow we have in North Dakota. 

2. Different diseases – same actors and politicians. I had hoped I would feel reasonably comfortable identifying diseases in Australian sunflower fields; that was not to be the case! I had never seen Sclerotinia rolfsii or Sclerotinia minor before and never truly seen the damage potential of many diseases that Australian farmers face, which we consider minor (or non-existent). Visits to fields helped me understand what Thompson and Ryley must have been thinking when they saw the white mold (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) or Downy Mildew melt down sunflower field in North Dakota.  

While I was visiting, actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard decided to skip Aussie biosecurity/quarantines and bring Pistol and Boo, a couple of toy dogs, along for a visit. As you may remember, a big public dust-up resulted with your Barnaby Joyce telling Depp’s dogs to ‘Bugger Off’ (an interesting word that this Yank had never heard before). This occurred right as I was visiting Aussie crops that did not have some the most destructive diseases we face in North America – a wonderful thing. I obviously don’t know much about Johnny Depp, but I think it’s fair to say that his livelihood doesn’t depend on either crop or animal production. His dead-pan apology, though humorous, made it clear that he also didn’t understand it. We’ve certainly got our share of politicians in the U.S. (and at least one businessman-become-politician) with interesting choices of public battles and limited charisma, but in this case, I have to applaud your politician. Australians do enjoy an absence of many diseases and pests that plaque much of the world, and as a North American resident, I encourage you to vigorously defend that. 

3. New Animals – Same Pests. At first, I was awestruck by Aussie animals; everything from you colourful birds that in the U.S. we put in a cage and spend hours looking at and showing off, or your giant bouncing kangaroos and emus that U.S. kids climb over themselves to see at a zoo. But after shooting 1,000 or more photographs, I started to understand that these marvellous creatures caused the same destruction that our obnoxious blackbirds and deer cause in U.S. agriculture. Although I am still enamoured with the Aussie creatures, by the end of my trip, I was more inclined to shoot those beautiful birds destroying sunflower fields with a shotgun than a camera (please don’t tell your dude Barnaby Joyce!). 

The differences in animals took a bit getting used to for other reasons. In NNSW, Tony Lockrey introduced me to the ‘Australian salute’, as flies kept crawling on my face and underneath my sunglasses; we have flies, but not like you! In one sunflower field, Sue grabbed me by my shirt just as I was about to walk my face into a giant spider – twice the size of anything I had ever seen in North Dakota. At the Kingaroy RS, Mal informed me that standing on a nest of ‘meat ants’ might not be the best situation for a comfortable ride home. On the Darling Downs, Kevin Charlesworth introduced me to one of the spiniest weeds I have come across, a Datura species. [And Sue says not to mention the highlight of my visit to Kevin’s sunflowers, which was that I saw a wonderful example of basal lesions of Sclerotium rolfsii for the first time.] In Eumundi, CRC pathologist Gary Kong smacked me in the chest and stopped me cold before I could step on a Red bellied Black snake – the first poisonous snake I have ever seen in the wild. The vast majority of the poisonous and deadly animals you have in Australia couldn’t survive a North Dakota winter (or fall or spring for that matter). I won’t look at those -30 to -40 degree nights the same again! 

4. Different Sports – Same Passion. One of the things I was most excited about when I booked my tickets to Australia was to see a football game or two. Although it’s been more years than I like to admit, I enjoyed my time on the gridiron field in the U.S. and I was excited to see a similar type of sport I’d often been curious about. Watching the Queensland Reds beat the Highlanders in Brisbane in April was the first time I had ever seen Rugby. In the beginning of the game, all I knew was that it looked like a lot of fun. After a game’s worth of coaching by Mal, Sue and family (Michael Thompson in particular), I could understand the basic rules and a little strategy, but appreciate how different the sports really are. The excitement was exactly the same – biggest differences; you don’t stop time for 25 seconds to come up with a play and you don’t hit with your head! The next week we were in Brisbane again to watch the Brisbane Lions beat the Gold Coast Suns. I’d never seen anything like it but it had the same excitement. I am thoroughly impressed with both; my son now owns a Lions ball and a Reds jersey and I will have to make many more trips to Australia to see football again! 

5. Little Differences – Big Hospitality. It was only after experiencing Australia for myself that I began to understand what Sue and Mal had been telling me all along, that it’s pretty hard to explain the little differences between cultures and countries until you see them for yourself. I spent hours every day trying to decipher slang and understand road signs, learning about Aussie cuisine like meat pies and fundraisers like meat trays. But, I had dozens of Aussies who warmly welcomed me into their world to teach me about Australia. Stephen and Maryanne threw a prawn on the barbie for me, Loretta and her NSW DPI colleagues Simpo and Kevin and their families showed me wonderful hospitality in Tamworth and I may have tasted a few new beers in West End. I shared field stories and laughs with the Pulse Aus boys, Gordon and Paul, and I was so extremely impressed by how many Aussies took the time to visit with me in the field, show me around a research station, welcome me into their home for tea, or patiently teach this Yank why you should not hit with your head in Rugby! 

I am very thankful, and look forward to returning in the future. 

Thank you!

ASA reps attend International sunflower conference

19th International Sunflower Conference, Edirne, Turkey, 29 – 3 June

ASA Chairman Kevin Charlesworth and Better Sunflower Coordinator Alicia Dunbar recently travelled to Edirne, Turkey to attend the 19th International Sunflower Conference in Edirne. The conference is held every four years and presents the latest scientific research to the international sunflower community, as well providing an invaluable opportunity for cross continent learning and networking. Over 400 researchers, extension officers, marketers, growers, seed company and other agribusiness representatives from Turkey, Serbia, Russia, France, USA, Argentina, Brazil and Canada attended this year.

Kevin Charlesworth says that the opportunity to view confectionary (edible sunflower) production in Turkey has inspired him. Sunflower seed and the oil sector is the one the most significant industries in Turkey.

“The amount of confectionary sunflower used in that country is incredible. 600,000 tonne is produced and double that is consumed in Turkey alone each year – that they know of.”

He also perceives that the quality of edible sunflower is lower than that produced in Australia and is keen to investigate opportunities for the industry to export to niche markets, should a suitable hybrid be made available. Kevin also sees opportunities for Australia to gain potential premiums from exporting to the northern hemisphere markets in their off season.

As well as potential new market opportunities, Coordinator Alicia Dunbar was also impressed by the range of seed hybrids available. She believes that given the simple farming systems employed by many competitors, Australia should have the marketing edge with better technology, and comparatively higher environmental and workplace safety standards.

“While touring some of the more remote the farming areas, we saw three peasants bent over with hoes in a paddock. The two old women and one man were replanting seed by hand where the seed had not emerged,” she explained. “Women and children still harvest the majority of crops by hand.”  

Kevin and Alicia were also joined by sunflower pathology researcher Sue Thompson who was the only Australian to present at the Conference. Sue shared her work on the survival of Diaporthe / Phomopsis species on live and dead hosts across a number of crops.

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

  • Stability performance of new introduced sunflower hybrids for seed yield and its components under Sudan conditions
  • Microbial Dressing of Sunflower Seeds with Trichoderma Harzianum Kuen 1585

ASA salutes Sue Thompson

It is with great thanks that the ASA notes Sue Thompson retirement from her current position of Research Fellow (Summer Crop Pathology) at the University of Southern Qld’s Centre for Crop Health.

For the last 24 years, Sue has specialised in plant pathology both at DAF Queensland and at USQ working as a summer crops pathologist and diagnostician. As an ASA Committee member since early 2006, Sue has volunteered her time to attend more than sixty teleconferences and meetings, and presented high quality information to more than 300 farmers, agronomists and other industry participants on how to minimise risk and manage outbreaks of disease in sunflower crops as part of the Better Sunflower workshops. This is in addition to the many DAF, DPI NSW and GRDC workshops Sue has supported.

In 2013, the Australian grains industry recognised Sue as one of its most valuable contributors with the inaugural with the Sunflower Industry Contribution award presented at the Australian Summer Grains Conference.

Sue has worked in agriculture for more than 30 years including running an agri-chemical research, development and consultancy business from Emerald, Central Queensland during the 1980’s. Sue shares stories of juggling long hours in the field, raising small children, while living in and sharing a caravan at the Emerald Showgrounds with her in-laws over summer.

As a specialist sunflower pathologist, Sue is internationally recognised in particular for her Diaporthe/Phomopsis species research which has revealed multiple new and pathogenic species infecting sunflower rather than just the known exotic species Diaporthe helianthi. Other significant outcomes of her PhD studies have been identifying multiple pathogenic Diaporthe/Phomopsis species on other summer crops such as chickpea, maize and mungbean plus highlighting the role of dead weeds as a Brown Bridge aiding pathogen survival in our zero and low till farming systems.

Sue and the team of Stephen Neate (USQ), Roger Shivas (DAFQ) and Liz Aitken (UQ) have sieved more than 25 previously undescribed species from the northern region Australian cropping systems and, to date have described eleven new Diaporthe species from a range of hosts.

The ASA believes Sue’s great generosity of spirit for her work, friends and life is demonstrated by her response to a doctor’s recommendation to limit her red wine intake to one glass per day; Sue complied simply and bought a bigger glass.

The great news for the ASA and the industry is that while Sue may be leaving USQ, she has no plans to retire from her volunteer role with the ASA Committee.

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