How to Start Sunflower Farming

May 4, 2023

Sunflower farming is poised to boom in the US. Whether the sunflower crop focuses on producing sunflower oil or seeds, the need for products is going to be strong now and for several years to come.

Sunflower Farming in the United States

Sunflowers are a native plant in the US, revered by Native Americans and a vital part of the Indian agricultural economy. Native Americans ate the seeds, crushed them to make meals, and used the oils to make paints and dyes.

Sunflowers began to become an important US crop in the 1960s. Early producers leaned heavily on the export market, but for the past two decades, the bulk of US sunflower product sales have been within the US and its neighbor, Canada.

Globally, the leading sunflower farming producers are Russia and Ukraine. Of the 20 tons of sunflower products produced worldwide in 2021, 5.4 tons came from Russia and 5.8 tons from Ukraine. Other temperate countries have the optimum range of growing season to support the plants at all critical stages.

For decades, sunflower oil has been the preferred vegetable oil in Europe, Mexico, and many South American countries.

In the US, here are the current top-producing states, and the best states to start a farm, starting with the leader: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and California.

What Do Sunflower Farms Produce?

There are three basic end products of sunflower farming, and that’s related to how the harvested seed is treated:

Hulled – The outer shell is removed, leaving the kernel.

Crushed – Squeezed, for vegetable oil production. The oilseed sunflower varieties are used for this and are among the most profitable crops.

Whole – Used as food for birds, and humans.

Sunflower Seeds for Birdseed

The seeds may be hulled or intact. Many bird-feeding aficionados prefer hulled so that there is less of a mess with just the seed filling eaten and no shells left behind.

Sunflower Seeds for Livestock

The seeds are crushed and made into a meal or pellets, or fed as an intact hulled seed.

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is the largest-selling oil globally in the branded oil segment. The hulled seeds are crushed or pressed to make sunflower oil, which is a preferred vegetable oil, and low in saturated fat. Compared to other vegetable oils, it is low in saturated fats and monounsaturated fats, and high in vitamin E. Specific hybrid sunflowers have been developed to best produce an oilseed crop.

Decorative Flowers

There are many varieties of sunflower plants, including dwarf and showy varieties. If you’re interested in flower farming, you can also learn how to open a flower shop.

Snack Food

For people, sunflower seeds are available with or without hulls.

How Much Does it Cost to Start a Sunflower Farm?

The estimated cost to start ranges from $20,000 to $40,000. The cost is dependent on whether or not suitable land and equipment to plant and harvest are already owned.

Simple Steps to Start a Sunflower Farm Business

One of the most important things to remember is that a sunflower field has to be in a crop rotation of 3 to 4 years. That means that a field used for sunflower cultivation shouldn’t be used for that purpose for 3 or more years. In other words, you need a farm large enough to support crop rotation.

Ready to learn how to start a farm using the proper techniques and the most desirable oilseed types of sunflowers? Read on:

Acquire the Land or Zone for Sunflower Plant Cultivation on Your Land

Sunflowers generally grow best in soil type that allows water filtration to naturally occur, but not sandy soil. Sunflowers have very long tap roots and reach deeply into the soil. The best soils are loams with a moderate pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, determined by soil testing. Poor soil ph can be improved with lime.

Learn Everything You Can About Sunflower Farming

Education and hands-on experience are keys. Before you grow sunflowers you need to study the techniques and the industry. For example, within that crop rotation, sunflowers have the highest yields – if the field was most recently used to grow wheat or sugar beets.

Name and Brand Your Sunflower Cultivation Business

Choose a name that fits with your end product.

Form a Legal Entity, License and Register Your Sunflower Business

Register and license your business in your state and as needed with local governing entities. Form a legal entity, such as a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC.

Sort Out Contracts and Insurance

The majority of commercial sunflower farmers, especially those who produce that most important oilseed crop, have a contract with a buyer before they plant. Of course, there are risks. Most contracts include an Act of God clause, absolving you from adhering to contract terms in the event of a natural disaster. You can also purchase crop insurance.

Create a Sunflower Farm Business Plan

You’ll need a written farm business plan that includes your mission statement, a description of business operations, and a plan for growth.

Market Research

Will you direct sell to consumers or sell to manufacturers? Who is your competition?

Buy or Rent the Necessary Equipment for Sunflower Production

The large farming equipment needed such as a No-Till drill, conventional tiller, or air driller, plus a combine, are incredibly expensive. Your best bet as you start may be to partner with a local farmer or coop and pay to have your sunflower crop planted and harvested.

Open a Business Bank Account

At the same time, obtain a business credit card.

Market the Business

Choose where to sell your products, whether internationally or in the local market, and go after that buyer.

Purchase Seeds and Grow the Crop

You must choose what type of sunflower farming is best, based on your location. Hybrids are continually developed and tested and North Dakota State University is a leader in this field. NDSU posts the results of its trials. The seeds shouldn’t be planted in cool soils.

Expand Your Business

Using your financial records and your business plan, seek financing as needed to grow the business.

Understanding The Steps in Growing Sunflowers

Planting and Seedling Stage of the Sunflower Crop

The sunflower seed has a good germination percentage per seed rate. Most growers add a starter fertilizer in the early spring. Sunflowers are often grown as a row crop.

Implement Proper Pest Control Measures

Pests include insects, birds and mammals. The list is long. The crop should be checked often, both during morning and evening hours (when deer like to dine). Deer and rabbits chow down on sunflower seedlings, while the sunflower moth and birds prefer to munch the seeds from the sunflower head.

The proper method for row spacing is a grouping of narrow rows, separated by an unplanted wide row. That’s preferred so that a person or vehicle can be driven down the rows, startling and spooking critters, to cut down on mammal and bird damage. Growers also hang bright reflector ribbons to help spook wildlife. In recent years, drones have been used as improved techniques for bird scaring.

Tackle Diseases Such as Head Rot

With head rot, the head turns yellowish brown. Other diseases include rust, verticillium wilt, charcoal rot and downy mildew (which can happen during times of cloudy weather in early April.

Controlling Weeds

Weed control and the timing of chemical weed and pest control are extremely important. If the plant has reached the flowering stage, it is visited by pollinators. Bad timing with pest control during the growing season can harm pollinators.

Harvesting Sunflowers Using Modern Mechanical Methods

The plants are harvested while the seeds have a high oil percentage, and high moisture content, which can be tested with special tools. The oil percentage is important with all varieties, not just the oilseed varieties. Harvesting while the oil percentage is good helps reduce post-harvesting losses.

Storing Harvested Heads

Post-harvest losses can occur if mechanical drying does not properly maintain relative humidity. Dryers are used, but a drying sunflower head can become a fire hazard if duff from the plants gets into the dryers. But too high humidity and the seeds won’t dry properly.


Oilseeds occupy a space loosely but must not be allowed to shift and break hulls. Good packaging materials are a must.

The Bottom Line

With prime soil and weather conditions, sunflower farming can be very profitable. The market is poised for growth in the US.

How Much is an Acre of Sunflowers Worth?

That depends on the seed yield per acre. In North Dakota, the seed yield per acre ranges from about 800 to 1800 seeds, depending on the variety. Sunflower seeds are priced per hundredweight, with a fluctuating value. That value is updated daily by SunflowersUSA.

How Much Sunflower Oil does 100 Pounds of Seeds Make?

100 pounds of seed will produce 40 pounds of oil.

Image: Depositphotos

This article, “How to Start Sunflower Farming” was first published on Small Business Trends



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