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NSA Marks Its 40th Anniversary!

Saturday, August 14, 2021
filed under: News

Sandbakken and Kleingartner
Shown in this photo, dating back to December 2011, are John Sandbakken (left) and Larry Kleingartner. Kleingartner, who had served as the NSA’s executive director since its inception in 1981, retired at the end of 2011. Sandbakken, his successor, had served as the organization’s marketing director since 1996.
Photo credit: Sonia Mullally
        This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Sunflower Association’s (NSA) establishment in 1981.  The NSA was not first U.S. sunflower organization; but it has been, by far, the longest lasting and most influential.
        A bit of background . . .
        The National Sunflower Growers Association (NSGA) came into being back in 1968, spearheaded by Northwood, N.D., farmer Marvin Klevberg, an early advocate of grower participation in the production, marketing and promotion of this crop.  Sunflower acreage was small but expanding at the time, with most U.S. production centered in northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.
        The Sunflower Association of America (SAA) came on board in 1975.  The nonprofit trade organization was comprised of companies and other groups (including NSGA) from all segments of the industry.  Sunflower hybrids had just been introduced commercially, and seed companies were well represented in its membership.  So too were sunflower seed exporters, commission houses and processors, including Cargill, Continental Grain and Atwood-Larson.
        Established to promote the general development of the U.S, sunflower industry, the SAA’s major activities including sponsoring a research forum, financially supporting scientific research — and, not inconsequentially, founding The Sunflower magazine, the first issue of which was published in August of 1975.
        The North Dakota Sunflower Council, authorized by the state’s legislature in 1977, was the nation’s first sunflower state checkoff organization.  Headquartered in Bismarck, the NDSC focused on market development, domestic promotion and support of research.  Larry Kleingartner, its executive director, would become the executive director of the National Sunflower Association upon the NSA’s formation four years later.
        The South Dakota Sunflower Council, the nation’s second state checkoff organization for this crop, was established in 1980. 
        The Sunflower Association of America was funded through dues paid by each of its member-companies.  But, just as importantly, it received tonnage assessment fees from the seed exporters.  By 1981, some of the principal exporters had opted to no longer earmark those funds for the SAA.  That, in concert with the formation of the two Dakota checkoff organizations, led to the cessation of the SAA and the concurrent birthing of the NSA by the two existing checkoff councils.
        Larry Kleingartner, who served as NSA’s executive director from 1981 through 2011, listed three key reasons behind the formation of the Association in The Sunflower’s August/September 1981 issue:
        “First, the North Dakota Sunflower Council has been working under a provisional ‘cooperator status’ with the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service for the purpose of foreign market development.  To solidify this working agreement with FAS, we need to have a national grower organization as opposed to a single state.”
        A second motive behind the NSA’s formation, Kleingartner stated, was to avoid duplication of efforts by the two existing state councils and any other state groups that could arise in the future.  (Since then, Kansas, Colorado and Minnesota also have established sunflower checkoff organizations.)
        Finally, Kleingartner noted, the NSA’s establishment provided a framework to include sunflower growers in states outside of the Dakotas.  “We need to communicate with and be of assistance to growers throughout the United States,” he noted.  Part of that mission called for the NSA to assume publication of The Sunflower magazine, which it continues to this day.

NSA president listA great deal has transpired in the U.S. sunflower industry across the past four decades, with much change in every segment: research, production, marketing, promotion, legislation and more.  Upon his retirement at the end of 2011, Kleingartner reflected on the many changes.
        “It has been a roller coaster of ‘feast and famine,’ and no two years have been alike,” he affirmed.
        “One of the great delights of working for the NSA over the years has been the innovative nature of board members, farmers, researchers and the support industry,” Kleingartner added.
        A major achievement, he says from the vantage point of 2021, was the switch over from traditional linoleic sunflower to oleic.  “That was a monumental task and a development that influenced sunflower around the world and, later, soybean and canola,” Kleingartner states.  “It was a combined effort of the hybrid seed industry, the crushers and the USDA research community, coordinated by the NSA.  In hindsight, today traditional sunflower oil would have a very limited market both domestically and overseas.”
        John Sandbakken, who joined the NSA as marketing director in 1996, succeeded Kleingartner as the group’s executive director — a position he continues to hold as of 2021.  Sandbakken highlights some of the other key achievements through the years:
        “NSA has requested, and the USDA Risk Management Agency approved, many additions and improvements to crop insurance coverage for sunflower to have enhanced protection from the factors outside of the producer’s control,” he notes.  “In particular, the addition of revenue-based insurance products that offer protection for yield and price fluctuations during the crop year was a critical achievement for sunflower producers.
        “In addition, expansion of coverage to additional counties has always been a priority for NSA,” Sandbakken adds.  Crop insurance for sunflower is now available in over 300 counties in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. 
        Other insurance advancements include coverage for dark roast and Sclerotinia in confection and conoil sunflower.  Also, the ability to use trend-adjusted yields, master yields and actual production history yield exclusion to build actual production history (APH) has greatly improved insurance coverage per acre.
        “Since its establishment, the NSA has committed itself to providing funds to public researchers to find ways to lower production costs, increase quality and obtain higher yields,” Sandbakken emphasizes.  “It has always been a team approach by sunflower industry members to have improved disease- and pest-tolerant hybrids, better cropping practices and to find ways to reduce production costs.
        “A great example of this is the progress achieved in sunflower yields,” NSA’s executive director continues.  “According to USDA data, in the past 40 years yields have increased dramatically. Oil sunflower yields have increased 52%, going from 1,178 lbs/ac in 1981 to a record high 1,802 lbs in 2020.  Confection sunflower yields have increased 46% from 1,171 lbs/ac in 2001 to 1,712 lbs in 2020.”
        Disease, especially Sclerotinia, can be destructive to sunflower in any given year.  Recently, NSA, along with other commodity groups, worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service and congressional offices from sunflower production states to increase funding for the National Sclerotinia Initiative from $1.0 million to $2.4 million annually for the expansion of research to control this devastating disease.
        NSA continues to work to maintain and increase significant market volume and access for sunflower oil, confection sunflower seed and kernel, in targeted high-value domestic and international markets.  With the movement of the oil industry toward high-oleic sunflower oil, the U.S. Food Drug Administration (FDA) announcement in 2018 concerning heart healthy high-oleic oils was welcome news.  NSA began working with FDA in 2016 to obtain a qualified health claim for consuming oils with high levels of oleic acid to reduce coronary heart disease risk.  “The qualified health claim is an important tool for getting new domestic customers onboard to add sunflower oil to their product mix, as consumers are increasingly looking for heart healthy products,” Sandbakken observes. 
        Converting the confection sunflower crop to have the desired consumer traits for seed size, length and color, along with bumping up yield, was another major accomplishment for the industry.
        NSA also has impacted legislative policy-making and administrative implementation at the federal, state and international levels in a manner consistent with achieving the association’s vision.  “A recent example of this was NSA spearheading industry response to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to successfully obtain exemption from the FSMA Produce Rule,” Sandbakken says.  “Had this not happened, sunflower producers would have had to follow the same stringent production practices as do growers of watermelon, lettuce, apple, etc. — which likely would have resulted in a substantial reduction or even potential elimination of sunflower from most producers’ rotations.”
        NSA was also involved in getting the USMCA into force to replace the NAFTA agreement, giving market certainty to these markets for producers.  Canada is the largest export market for U.S. sunflower oil and sunflower kernel, while Mexico is the second largest export market for in-shell seed and kernel.
        “As NSA moves forward, we will continue to create an environment that is accessible, responsive and inclusive to the needs of sunflower producers and industry members by identifying and implementing policies and practices that impact positively on the sunflower industry,” Sandbakken concludes. 
        “The ongoing mission of the National Sunflower Association is to always strive for increased profitability for sunflower producers and the sunflower industry by maintaining aggressive research, expanding sunflower markets, impacting public policy and providing information and education
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