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Omega-9 Sunflower Oil Process Moves Forward

Friday, November 1, 2013
filed under: Research and Development

When it comes to health trends, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s hard to keep track of everything, to know what’s really healthy. But when it comes to oil, there may be just one to remember: Omega-9 Sunflower Oil.

Omega-9 Sunflower Oil may be the healthiest oil available. It’s very low in saturated fat and very high in monounsaturated, Omega-9 type fats — which is exactly what health-conscious consumers and food companies have been looking for. Omega-9 Sunflower Oil is all natural and can support an all-natural package claim, as the oil comes from NEXERATM seeds that were developed by Dow AgroSciences through traditional plant breeding.

These hybrids have taken years to develop, and now Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences anticipates one or more hybrids will be available to producers in time for limited planting in 2015.

“We have been pleased with the results so far; but as with any project like this, there are always challenges that go with the good progress,” says John Kalthoff, sunflower marketing leader with Mycogen Seeds. “We’ve been pleased with the number of varieties we’ve been able to successfully put the Omega-9 profile into. There is a lot of demand from food companies, and that is good for producers, because it will open new and different markets to sunflower producers.

“The one setback we’ve had is that one of the first hybrids we anticipated being ready will not be ready first. We’re a couple of years out on that hybrid; but other hybrids that we thought would come later, actually look better now.”

Kalthoff says a new family of hybrids is being developed, and a full pipeline of material is in development. It takes multiple years to purify the male and the female parent lines and then to increase those parent lines and make the crosses to have enough planting seeds. “We are working north and south of the Equator to speed it up, but these things just take time,” says Kalthoff. Still, he’s confident at least some hybrid seed will be available for 2015 planting.

Until then, research continues on plots in North and South Dakota, Kansas and Colorado, as well as in Argentina. Those plots will be expanded in 2014 with some new hybrids. “We hand-picked our test plot locations. We want to plant larger fields now. That will help us understand production variables and how these interact with the genetics, like the geography, the soil conditions and the moisture. We want to have a good handle on that before we go tot the marketplace and commit to having a given oil profile,” Kalthoff explains.

As for this year’s test plots, Kalthoff says so far, so good (as of early October). “We haven’t taken yield measurements yet for this year, and in the Dakotas we haven’t started harvest yet.  But the fields we planted in Argentina seem to be yielding on par,” he says. “There is no yield drag derived from the Omega-9 oil profile itself, which is very good.”

What’s also good is the oil content of Omega-9 Sunflower Oil. Kalthoff estimates it will be in the low 40s, similar to NuSun® and high-oleic varieties. Omega-9 is primarily oleic and has total saturates of 3.5% or less. This gives the oil a high level of stability for food manufacturers. That means no antioxidants or hydrogenation will be needed, which in turn leads to a cleaner ingredient label. And, because Omega-9 Sunflower Oil is so low in saturates, most food companies will be able to claim zero saturated fat, a key selling point for consumers.

Food companies around the world are interested in Omega-9 Sunflower Oil, and it is being tested globally. “There are just so many things this oil can be used for,” says Kalthoff. “I suspect it will be used in salad dressings, shortening, sprays, bottles, margarine, mayonnaise and more. I think there are lots of options available to the food companies, and that is obviously good for sunflower producers.”

It is still being determined whether these hybrids will be available in all sunflower growing areas or if they will be limited to specific places. “The thing to remember is, we will not have an unlimited amount of seed. We’d like to go as wide as possible with this seed and get it to as many growers in as many crush locations as quickly as possible; but at the same time, we want to make sure the seed is adapted to the right areas,” Kalthoff points out

The bottom line: Omega-9 Sunflower Oil could be a win-win. Consumers win because they get the low fat oil they’ve been wanting, and sunflower producers win because they get another contract option.

“For growers looking to earn a little premium and have the luxury of a contract, Omega-9 could be just what they’re looking for,” Kalthoff says. “I don’t know for sure, but I anticipate the contracts would be similar to high-oleic sunflower contracts available today.”

Meantime, there remains one very big challenge: maintaining consumer interest. “Market research shows consumers are very interested, but there is a certain price point at which they are no longer interested,” Kalthoff relates. “Sunflower oil has been high priced compared to other oils, and that turns potential buyers away from using that oil, regardless of the oil profile it has. The outlook for sunflower oil is very good at a certain price, but as soon as price gets a little too high, opportunity shrinks.”

— Jody Kerzman

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