Sunflower fields increased this year in Kansas, pushing the Sunflower State to third in the nation — behind the Dakotas. Last year, Kansas was sixth.


Although North and South Dakota produce more than 1 million acres annually, Kansas leads the other six sunflower producers with more than 70,000 planted acres, according to the USDA acreage report. This is up by 156% from last year.


Other sunflower-producing states include California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas. According to the USDA, more than 1.5 million acres of sunflowers were planted in the U.S. last year, increasing growth by 114%.


Nationally, oil acreage increased substantially, but in Kansas, the largest increase was for confectionery (larger striped) sunflowers — an increase of 250%. Higher sunflower seed prices have contributed to increased acreage in this crop.


Joel McClure, of McClure Farms in Hugoton, has raised sunflowers for at least three decades. This year, his crop sits on more than 700 acres.


"They’re good for rotation," he said. "You have to be really cautious of what you’re doing and do it right. Otherwise, you’ll have a problem with weeds."


Because growing sunflowers to be used for food requires a contract, McClure enjoys the fact that he does not have to market his seeds. After harvest, his crop goes straight to a plant in Colby for processing.


Sunflower oil


Although soybeans supply 90% of U.S. oil-seed production, sunflower, along with canola, flax and peanut oil supply the rest. Most sunflower farmers in central and eastern Kansas grow the flower for oil and birdseed.


Cameron Peirce, of Hutchinson, vice president of the Kansas Sunflower Commission, has raised sunflowers off and on for years. This year, he has them spread over 1,000 acres.


"They look really good this year," he said.


Peirce, one day, hopes to grow both types of sunflowers, but for now he’s sticking with oil and birdseed.


"It’s a little bit of a risky market (confectionery), but it’s a high-profit market," he said.


Karl Esping, president of the Kansas Sunflower Commission and vice president of the board of the National Sunflower Association, is growing more than 500 acres of sunflowers for oil and birdseed in Lindsborg.


Peirce and Esping continue to tell farmers about the benefits of sunflowers, including its drought and heat tolerance.


According to Mark Ash and Dana Golden, of the USDA Economic Research Service, the U.S. imported seeds from Russia earlier this year, but the Russian government implemented an export ban on sunflower seed between July and September. The U.S. has turned to Turkey for its seeds. Last year, Russia, followed by the Ukraine, produced the most seeds worldwide.


Along with having between 1,000 to 2,000 seeds, each sunflower is a useful pollinator for bees, birds and butterflies.