Sunflowers bloom as niche crop

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Turley Farms' Roger Lasham inspects the sunflowers planted at the farm's Chertsey property.

By Toni Williams

Turley Farms Chertsey is among a growing number of farms turning to sunflowers as a rotation crop to use between plantings.

Sunflowers are good for high oleic sunflower oil, which is high in oleic (monounsaturated) acid (at least 80 per cent), and good as a frying oil. It also has a good shelf life and is used in infant formula.

The farm group, which has properties scattered throughout Canterbury, has planted more than 40 hectares of sunflowers at the Chertsey site. There are 62,000 sunflower plants per hectare.

Turley Farms’ Roger Lasham said around Mid Canterbury there are around 250 hectares of sunflowers growing for the processor Pure Oil NZ.

“These are our catch crop. It’s always good to have a niche to fill the gap.”

Turley Farms used the same model as last year, planting the sunflowers on land vacated by peas.

They were planted on December 11 and are about 1.4m tall. While they are slightly smaller than last season, the flowers are full of seed.

At harvest, just the heads are sent for processing with Pure Oil NZ, which supplies two bottled products to the domestic market; rape oil and sunflower oil.

Both are good for cooking and as dipping oils. They are available in supermarkets nationwide.

Bulk oil was also sent overseas.

The Chertsey site was used as a trial crop farm after high oleic sunflower was identified as a potential option for growers in 2017, and a Food Products for the Future project, funded by Foundation for Arable Research and Ministry for Primary Industries Sustainable Farming Fund.

They used the hybrid sunflower varieties, Idillic and Baltic.

The sunflower hybrids were stingy on the use of nitrogen and only needed light watering.

They reach maturity between 90 to 120 days and are a low input option.

Mr Lasham said the biggest threat to the sunflowers so far was bird damage at the final stages.