As we head into warm and drier weather conditions this summer, sunflowers, one of South Africa’s biggest crops, will be thriving. This is thanks to their heat-resistant nature and ability to endure dry weather.
Agricultural economist Conce Moraba said sunflower production is one of the main oil seeds that is produced in South Africa. The country harvests around 715 tonnes per year, she added, but experienced a decline this year because of labour conflicts and some ears were planted under maize or soybeans.
Moraba was speaking during a Gather To Grow session on Instagram where experts discussed the pros and cons of farming with sunflowers.
“We do have crops that take preference. Usually, producers will do that based on profit decisions or due to climatic conditions. Our sunflower is good production-wise and when it comes to resistance in drought-like weather conditions,” she said.
When it comes to competition, Moraba told listeners that sunflowers usually compete with maize when it comes to land because it is the most widely grown and economically important crop in South Africa.
She explained that maize is primarily cultivated for food as well as animal feed, and it plays a pivotal role in the production of many oils because it is also a vegetable oil.
“Generally, maize plants outweigh sunflower production in terms of economics and our agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). Soybeans are another competitor and they have great prominence in South Africa where we’re expecting record crops this year.
“That is because of the higher protein content we get from soybeans and versatility. This makes it an economically important crop in South Africa,” she said.
According to Moraba, sunflowers are the third most important crop after canola which is growing in prominence because of its health benefits.
“It is one of the crops that do contribute to our GDP. It is not a massive import crop like maize and soybeans, but usually, we export sunflowers to Swaziland, Namibia, and Uganda.”
Where to find sunflower farms
Moraba explained that the Free State produces the largest sunflower yield, producing around 290 000 hectares and it is well-suitable for sunflowers because of the fertile soils and favourable climate in summer.
A Free State-based farmer who farms in Welkom, Happy Letsitsa, added that sunflowers in the province are an amazing crop with high potential for good yields.
“It is the crop of choice in drier conditions. Sunflowers are stronger than average crops in dry conditions. Farmers with large communal lands without irrigation usually plant sunflower in the northwest and they get decent yields.
“Sometimes there is a lot of rain and sometimes it is dry, but we consistently plant sunflowers. It is one of the province’s main crops and does well. This year the prices dropped, it’s been horrific this year, but it remains one of our best crops,” he said.
Letsitsa added that they want to be number one within the next five years as the best producer of sunflowers. “We are working hard in creating sunflower cities or sunflower regions so in three to five years we’ll be at the top,” he said.
Finding the right cultivars
North West-based grain farmer Nkosana Mtimkulu said when it comes to the different cultivars, farmers need to get expert advice. “In terms of regions it depends on the agronomists within the regions to advise because there are new technologies being applied to various crops, whether sunflower or soybeans.
“Maybe this year we will have a new cultivar that is drought-resistant or resistant to pests. Depending on the regions, it is a matter of keeping on track and trying different cultivars,” he said.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.