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January 22, 2013

Sunflowers Are Alternative for Safrinha Crop Production in Brazil

In comparison to Brazil's ever increasing soybean and corn crops, sunflower production in Brazil is still very small, but it is increasing. Farmers in Mato Grosso are expected to plant 36,000 hectares of sunflowers in 2013 and the state will produce 61% of Brazil's anticipated 92,000 tons of sunflower production.

The municipality of Campo Novo dos Parecis in western Mato Grosso is responsible for 70% of the state's sunflower production. Small scale sunflower production started in the municipality 19 years ago and the early production was used primarily for bird seed. Today, sunflowers in the municipality are grown primarily for sunflower oil, which is used for human consumption as well as biodiesel production.

Due to the nature of sunflower seeds, it's not economical to transport the seeds long distances, so it was welcome news when an oil processing plant was opened in the city in 2008. Sunflower seeds are lighter than soybean seeds making them more expensive to transport than soybeans. The same truck that can transport 36 tons of soybeans can only transport 22 tons of sunflower seeds. Therefore, the cost per kilogram to transport sunflower seeds long distances in Brazil is prohibitively expensive. It's much more economical to transport the processed oil than to transport the seeds themselves.

That is exactly what has been happening in the municipality. In 2008, the Parecis Alimentos S/A company opened a processing facility in the city that utilized 4,000 hectares of sunflower production. The plant has been expanded and in 2013, it will utilize 21,000 hectares of sunflower production. The company produces regular sunflower oil and high oleic acid sunflower oil. Currently, the plant can process 105 tons of oil per day and plans are to expand the facility to 500 tons per day in 2014. With the anticipated expansion, the plant will utilize 80,000 hectares of sunflower production.

All the sunflowers in Mato Grosso will be planted as a second crop following the soybean harvest. Sunflowers are well suited for a second crop because the crop has a relative short growth cycle and sunflowers perform well under dryer conditions. The crop does not perform well when planted as a first crop due to the high humidity levels common in central Brazil during the growing season. The high humidity results in increased disease pressures, which can impact sunflower yields.

Sunflower yields in the state are expected to average 2,500 kg/ha with experimental fields yielding as high as 3,000 kg/ha. The crop does best when the soil moisture is adequate between germination and flowering and then conditions turn dryer during grain filling.