A Worthy Partner
"Though Commonly in the Shadow of Its Oil Sister Product, Sun Meal Constitutes a Valuable Ingredient in the Overall Sunflower Equation"
Despite soybean oil being the most-consumed vegetable oil in the
world, the soybean is considered primarily a meal-seed, not an oil-seed
- and with good reason. Given its average oil content of just 18 to 20
percent, King Soybean generates - in terms of sheer volume - nearly six
times more meal than oil each year. When averaged across the past
decade, roughly two-thirds of the soybean crop's total value can be
attributed to the processed meal, with one-third to the oil.
Compare that with oil-type sunflower, whose oil content can top out
at 50 percent or slightly higher and usually averages - at least in the
United States and several other nations - in the lower 40s.
While there are more tons produced of sun meal than of sun oil, oil
clearly is the value leader within the sunflower sector. When averaged
across years, approximately four-fifths of sunflower's value can be
attributed to oil and about one-fifth to meal.
At any given time, the actual level of meal's contribution depends
upon the relative supply/demand situation for oils and meals in general
- and for sun oil and sun meal specifically. Sun meal's value also
would reflect its protein content, which can vary by several percentage
points, depending upon the amount of hull left in the meal product after
seed processing has taken place. A higher-protein meal would be more
valuable in most instances.
Virtually all sunflower meal produced in the United States comes
from four facilities: the Northern Sun (division of ADM) sunflower
crushing plants at Goodland, Kan., Enderlin, N.D., and Red Wing, Minn.,
and the Cargill multiseed crushing plant/refinery at West Fargo, N.D.
Neither Goodland or Red Wing do any dehulling. Red Wing's meal is
a 28-percent protein; that of Goodland, 30 percent. Northern Sun's
Enderlin plant performs the highest degree of dehulling, producing a
35-percent protein sunflower meal in the process. Cargill's West Fargo
facility comes in at a 32-percent protein.
Where is the meal utilized?
Some U.S. sun meal moves into export, but the vast bulk is fed to
domestic livestock. As a feed ingredient, sunflower meal finds its best
fit in ruminant rations; but it also serves as a protein supplement for
nonruminants. In feeding ruminants, partially dehulled sunflower meal
can be substituted for soybean meal on an equivalent protein basis.
Swine and poultry are more likely to be fed the lower-fiber (dehulled
and partially dehulled) sun meals.
Plant location and whether a given plant pelletizes its sun meal
are major factors in determining the destination of its products.
Lynda Voorhees, meal merchandiser for Cargill at West Fargo, says
the users of that plant's sunflower meal typically are feedlots or
formulating mills within a several-hundred-mile radius of the Red River
Valley. "Most of the meal tends to go straight south, simply because
most of it goes into cattle feed," she indicates.
Protein levels factor into transportation economics as well. The more hull content in the meal, the lighter the weight, Voorhees points out.
"All else being equal, if you're railing it, the 32 percent would be lighter than
the 35 but heavier than the 28. So we may be able to rail to some
points where the 28 can't get to; but the 35 would have the advantage
for longer distances." She estimates that in a typical year, about
half of Cargill sun meal moves from the plant via rail, the other half
While Cargill does not pelletize any of its sunflower meal, the
Northern Sun plants offer bulk or pelleted options. "If we're dealing
with feedyards or farmers, typically they'll want a pellet because of
handling ease, shrink factors, etc.," observes Natalie McCarty, former
merchandising manager at the Goodland location. "Also, many people
believe the animal takes in more feed (with pellets) and doesn't leave
as many fines at the bottom of the bunk.
"Feed mills commonly will use a meal form, then mix it in with other
ration ingredients, pelletize it and the ship pellets to feedyards,"
McCarty says. Nearly all Goodland-originated meal moves by truck.
Located in northwestern Kansas, Goodland benefits from a huge
livestock feed market in its High Plains backyard. Nearly all Goodland
meal moves toward the west and south, with the three Upper Midwest
plants serving eastern Kansas, Nebraska and areas further north and
With what other feed ingredients is sunflower meal competing - and
how does it compare?
Soybean is considered the "Cadillac" of protein meals, of course,
with few limitations to its use, whereas sun meal does have
restrictions due to its higher fiber and amino acid levels, as well as
its lower fat and protein (compared to soybean). Sun meal competes more
directly with cottonseed meal, wheat midds and canola meal.
ADM nutritionist Lance Forster points out that sunflower meal
actually has some advantages over soybean meal for cattle feeders. "The
first is the absorbancy of the hull, which tends to grab onto not only
moisture, but also other liquid ingredients like molasses," he says.
"This gives it more utility in protein blocks and supplements than
soybean or canola meal."
Forster also notes that the chloride level of sunflower meal is
higher than that of some other mid-proteins - a trait which gives sun
meal an advantage in dairy rations. "The protein in sunflower meal also
is more digestible than soybean, canola or cottonseed," he adds, "which
may make it more useful in some poultry and swine rations."
The limiting factor to sun meal's usage "is the fiber level for
energy-dense diets such as broilers or growing swine," Forster states.
"Alternately, where lower energy density of feeds may be needed - as in
swine gestation rations or broiler breeder hen and layer types of diets
- the fiber acts as a good bulking agent to help limit feed consumption
while still meeting the animal's protein needs in a balanced diet."
To what extent are meal customers exclusively "price buyers" versus
"With least-cost formulations being popular, they're able to switch
back and forth fairly easily," Voorhees says, "whereas in the past they
would have stuck more with one product." She does believe, however,
that using a specific meal is more important to them than many buyers
may admit - and that sunflower usually is in a strong competitive
The "cloud" of low prices when sun meal is particularly cheap
compared to other meals has had at least one "silver lining" in recent
years, Voorhees suggests. Many prospective customers are not very
familiar with sun meal's characteristics and availability. Low sun meal
prices "encourage people to use it who normally would not do so," she
says. "When that happens, they may become sold on the product. So when prices do rise, they'll stick with it."
Along with the Goodland plant's proximity to numerous large
feedlots, price has been a key factor in the plant's increased sales of
sun meal within recent years, McCarty reports. "Because it is
quantified as a "mid-protein," sunflower meal needs to be priced
competitively versus the other proteins," she states.
"So price is definitely an advantage - and one of the reasons people
use sunflower meal. Plus, it's an excellent feed source that's right in
their back door - whether that be in North Dakota, Minnesota or Kansas."
- Don Lilleboe
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