Things were looking good for the 2019 sunflower crop, that is until Oct. 10-12 when an unusually early winter snow storm blasted much of the region, raising serious concerns about the impact to sunflowers, as well as other crops still sitting out in the fields.

Earlier this month, USDA had released its first production estimate for this year’s crop, which according to the numbers, was looking like a very nice crop.

“The caveat to the USDA report,” said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association, writing in NSA’s weekly newsletter on Oct. 14, “is that it was based on growing conditions before a widespread powerful winter storm hit the Dakotas and Minnesota and assumed normal weather for the remainder of the growing season.”

However, with such an early, impactful storm, who knows what “normal weather” will look like in the weeks and months to come.

By the beginning of this month, sunflower harvest was underway in Colorado, Kansas and Texas, but had not yet begun in the Dakotas. Things were looking good until the snow storm socked the region in the face.

“So, take these figures with a grain of salt,” he said.

According to the pre-storm USDA numbers, 2019 sunflower production was estimated at 2.25 billion pounds, which was up 7 percent from the revised 2018 production of 2.11 billion pounds. USDA also shaved off 9 million pounds from 2018 oil sunflower production leaving non-oil production unchanged.

USA pegged area planted to sunflower at 1.36 million acres, down 2 percent from the June estimate, but up 4 percent from last year. Also, U.S. sunflower growers are expected to harvest 1.31 million acres, down 3 percent from June but up 4 percent from last year.

Although USDA forecast the overall average yield for all sunflower types at 1,724 pounds per acre, which would be 7 pounds lower than last year’s yield, it will be the third highest on record, “if realized.”

In the region, according to USDA, North Dakota would be leading sunflower producing state this year, at 956 million pounds, up 29 percent from 2018. South Dakota production is forecast at 913 million pounds, down 6 percent from last year. But again, this was prior to the snow storm.

As of Sept. 30, 74 percent of the North Dakota sunflower crop was rated in good-to-excellent condition with 22 percent fair and 4 percent poor-to-very poor.

In Minnesota, 74 percent was rated in good-to-excellent condition with 24 percent fair and 2 percent poor-to-very poor.

As of Oct. 14, old crop NuSun prices at the Cargill crush plant in Fargo, N.D., were listed at $17.40 per hundredweight for delivery in November. At the ADM crush plant in Enderlin, N.D., NuSun prices for delivery in November were $17.30. New crop prices at Enderlin were $17.70 cash and $17.20 with an Act of God (AOG) clause.

High-oleic sunflower prices at Fargo were $17.85 for delivery in November and at Enderlin high-oleic prices were $17.80 for November delivery. New crop high-oleic prices at Enderlin were $18.20 cash and $17.70 with an AOG clause.

High-oleic old crop prices at Pingree, N.D., were $17.20 for November delivery and $16.70 at Hebron, N.D.

Sandbakken also suggested that producers consider the oil premiums that crush plants pay on sunflower as it is the only oilseed that pays premiums for oil content above 40 percent.

“Considering oil premiums that are offered at the crush plants on oil content above 40 percent at a rate of 2 percent price premium for each 1 percent of oil above 40 percent, this pushes a contract with 45 percent oil content gross return 10 percent higher per hundredweight,” he said, adding that the AOG clause $17.10 contract increases to $18.80 and the cash $17.60 contract moves up to $19.35.