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Prices high, supply short, sunflower acres down, producers hopeful of quality

Press Photo by Sean M. Soehren Kurt Ridl checks a sunflower in one of his sprawling fields northwest of Dickinson on Thursday morning. Ridl has farmed sunflowers, among other crops, with his two brothers since the '70s.

Local prices for sunflowers are more than double what they were a year ago, but after battling difficult planting conditions that dramatically lowered the number of acres planted, the market might be left with a limited supply.

The United States Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service reported preliminary prices for all sunflowers received this year in August at $30.60 per hundred weight compared to $14.40 at the same time last year.

National Sunflower Association Director Larry Kleingartner said the prices correlate to supply and demand.

"It really continues to relate to the present situation with fairly limited stocks," he said.

Fields were saturated during the early spring and it kept farmers from being able to get their seeds in the ground. The USDA released that 690,000 acres were planted this year compared to 885,000 last year.

Kurt Ridl, who has been farming sunflowers with his two brothers northwest of Dickinson since the late '70s, said they struggled during planting. Some of the crop had to be "mudded in" which led to less favorable crop.

"The plant population is a little thinner than we would have liked to see," he said. "There wasn't proper seed to soil contact, a lot of time it just left a groove in the soil."

Stark County Extension Agent Kurt Froelich said the late planting was trouble for most producers.

"The abnormality was the delay in planting, producers were out planting wheat and grains and sunflowers at the same time," he said.

North Dakota grows about half of the nations sunflowers, so production in the state is critical, Kleingartner said.

Sunflowers are crushed for oil, used in birdseed, sold as "chew and spit" seeds and hulled to be used in other products.

Kleingartner said the domestic shortage has lead to high prices for producers, but might hurt the market nationally because customers will look overseas for more favorable prices.

"The short crop is going to be negative to the overall market," he said. "Any time a commodity like this is in short supply, it has echoes in the future."

Places like Russia, that have solid crops, might become a supplier in the U.S., Kleingartner said, but it depends what kind of crops local producers have.

Ridl said that the crops are looking good overall. The sunflowers have compensated for a thinner stand by making a larger head, he said.

Froelich and Ridl said that producers should have the opportunity for a good yield as long as there is not an early frost.

"Whoever has sunflowers this year is going to have a profitable year if they have normal to above normal crops," Ridl said.