Market Moo-ver: Canadian producer finds niche market
Canadian producer finds niche market selling sunflower kernels to dairy producers
Jim Pedersen has established a niche market for his sunflower, selling harvested kernels directly to area dairy farmers in Canada.
The Elm Creek, Manitoba producer has grown both confection and oil sunflower in the past, but this year grew only oil sunflower. “It was out of frustration of fighting disease pressure, and the difficulties of trying to market confection sunflower here, so we pulled our confection acreage and switched to oils,” he says.
Pedersen will sell much, if not all, of the sunflower he produced this year to dairy farms. He also supplies grain corn to dairy farms and hog farms, and sells some corn to a pet food manufacturer.
Many dairy farms in Manitoba commonly include supplemental fat in dairy cow rations for additional energy and increased butterfat in milk. The intake of supplemental fat should not exceed 5% of the daily dairy ration, according to Karen Dupchak, animal nutritionist with Manitoba Agriculture, or rumen fermentation can be affected and milk fat depression, reduced feed intake and off-feed problems may occur.
More dairy farms that feed supplemental fat are switching from using animal fats such as tallow to vegetable oilseeds such as sunflower, which contains approximately 40% fat and 20% protein. Canola can be used, but canola seeds are less digestible because of their small size and hard seed coat, according to Dupchak.
Cottonseed is used by many dairies in the U.S. A University of Minnesota study several years ago indicated that extruded sunflower seeds compared well with cottonseed for nutrient value. See article “Sunseeds Perform Well in Dairy Study” under utilization/trade on at www.sunflowernsa.com. Click on link to Sunflower Magazine, then “the archives.”
Pedersen says sunflower seeds are competitive in price as a supplemental source of fat in dairy rations. But he thinks the switch away from animal fat supplements stems more from the mad cow issue in Europe, and the growing disapproval in using animal byproducts in animal rations.
The sun seeds are fed whole and unprocessed, formulated into rations right on the farm. Pedersen gets a price around 15 cents per lb Canadian for sunflower he sells to dairies in central and southeast Manitoba. He says it’s a modest price, similar to the birdseed market. “The real advantage comes in expanding our market base, dealing directly with customers, and doing without the conventional market deductions.”
Pedersen plans to market all 435 acres of his sunflower production this year to dairy farms. “One small producer can use about 400 pounds of sunflower per day. If several do that, it adds up,” he says.
It’s possible the livestock market could be a niche venue for sunflower. “This could maybe be another market for sunflower, and friendlier if it makes a healthier milk product,” says Pedersen.
Possible applications for beef industry
Dean Fraser, a producer and seed dealer from Souris, Man., knows dairy producers who have been successfully including sunflower in dairy rations for over 12 years. He says it’s possible that sunflower can play a role in beef cattle rations as well.
“We’re hearing more and more about the health benefits of sunflower in humans, so it makes sense that those same health benefits may apply to livestock,” he says. Given limited research data on the effects of feeding sunflower to beef cattle, Pioneer and DuPont are supporting sunflower feeding trials with beef cattle starting this fall at agricultural research stations near Brandon, Man., and Lethbridge, Alberta.
It’s questionable whether feeding sunflower to livestock is economically feasible when sunflower prices are higher, like this fall. Still, the potential for expanding the market use of sunflower is promising. “Look at the volume of beef from Canada into the Dakotas and down into the Rocky Mountains. With sunflower that can be locally grown in this region as a non-GMO crop that can be fed naturally without processing, it could be a nice fit for the future,” says Fraser. – Tracy Sayler
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