Input Costs for South Dakota Sunflowers Back »

Sunflowers are among the top five oilseed crops cultivated around the world. Sunflower acreage in the US. peaked in the mid to late 70’s through the mid 80’s, and then again albeit more moderately in the 90’s as a result of the Food Agricultural Conservation and Trade Act of 1990. During this century they seem to have relatively stabilized between 1.5 and 2 million acres. Reasons for this reduction have been more moderate prices resulting from larger crops abroad, and competition with soybeans as the oilseed of choice. Nearly 25 percent of the sunflower crop is used for birdseed, and 10-20 percent goes for snacks and baking (confection). The other 35-55 percent is used in oil extraction resulting in a byproduct used as livestock feed. Most of these sunflower products including the oil are nowadays consumed domestically. Sunflower oilseed production in the US is concentrated in the Upper Midwest primarily because of a shorter growing season not ideal for corn and soybeans. In addition, sunflowers thrive under the moderate to low moisture conditions of this region because of their deeper root system. As a result, the top two producing states accounting for approximately 80 percent of the total US production, were in 2016 North Dakota (first) and South Dakota (second).


Cost of Production

The profitability of the sunflower enterprise is determined by yield and input and output prices. Budgets should be developed yearly for each operation as they change depending on input costs. Variability in soil type, weather, management and production practices also play an important role on profitability. Table 1. shows 2016 operating costs for a sunflower enterprise as percent of the total according to North Dakota State University. Operating costs per acre during 2016 for the Dakotas were estimated at close to $164 per acre. Since the top three individual costs are seeds, herbicides, and fertilizer, optimizing their selection and utilization will have the greatest economic impact on the overall cost of production.

Table 1. 2016 Operating Costs: Sunflower Enterprise

Item %
Seed 21.5
Herbicides 20.2
Insecticides 3.1
Fertilizer 18.0
Fuel & Lubrication 4.9
Crop Insurance 8.2
Repairs 10.2
Drying 2.6
Miscellaneous 9.2
Operating Interest 2.1
Total 100 (approx. $164.17)


Sunflower production is greatly affected by choice of hybrid. Characteristics to look for in a sunflower hybrid are yield potential, oil concentration and composition (particularly greater oleic acid content), maturity, stalk strength, and disease resistance. Hybrids have to be evaluated under environmental and management conditions similar to the region where they are going to be planted. Every year SDSU Extension publishes Sunflower Variety Trial Results through iGrow. This information helps with the right choice of hybrid for a particular location. Information also available through iGrow, helps farmers analyze hybrid performance consistency through the years, also known as “yield stability”. Other sources on the site provide valuable sunflower management information as well as common diseases of this crop.


According to NDSU field trials (2012-2015) increasing nitrogen fertilization rate increases seed protein and decreases oil concentration. In addition, at higher nitrogen rates there is greater susceptibility to lodging and increased sunflower disease. In general phosphorus has not been reported necessary in U.S. studies for high sunflower yields. A standard potassium soil test of 150 parts per million is considered enough for maximize yields. Sulfur deficiencies need to be addressed in a case by case basis, paying particular attention to precipitations during the previous fall, winter, spring, and through planting season. SDSU Extension experts can help with fertilizer recommendations and management considerations for both Eastern and Western South Dakota. Contacts: Ruth Beck (SDSU Extension Agronomy Field Specialist) and Anthony Bly (SDSU Extension Soils Field Specialist).


According to SDSU Extension experts, weed control programs for sunflowers are limited. The best approach is being proactive and avoiding fields with a history of heavy weed invasion. Particularly serious is the presence of annual broadleaf weeds for which there are no post-emergence herbicides. 2017 South Dakota Pest Management Guide: Sunflower & Oilseeds/Alfalfa & Range is available online or as hard copy at the SDSU Extension Regional Centers. This guide provides recommendations for herbicides, insecticides, seed treatments, and fungicides that are available in South Dakota for controlling weeds, insects, and diseases. Contacts: Paul O. Johnson (SDSU Extension Weed Science Coordinator) and Gared Shaffer (SDSU Extension Weeds Field Specialist).

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