This year’s European Union sunflower harvest will set a record by a bigger margin than had been thought, as prices, given extra buoyancy by the Ukraine war, encourage expanded sowings.

Strategie Grains, the influential analysis group, lifted by 230,000 tonnes to 10.89m tonnes its forecast for EU sunflower seed production this year.

The upgrade, which took the harvest further above last year’s record of 10.36m tonnes, reflected an increased sowings forecast, expanded by 110,000 hectares to 4.79m hectares.

The appeal of the oilseed, of which EU farmers grew 4.40m hectares last year, reflects the extent of price gains – which have been given extra strength by the conflict in Ukraine, on top of buoyancy gleaned from the broad vegetable oils rally.

Ukraine is the top sunflower seed exporter, with a 20% share of world trade, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

‘Record prices’

France, one of the EU’s top sunflower growers, earlier this month forecast domestic sowings of the oilseed up by 60,000 hectares year on year at 758,000 hectares, citing the “strong market incentive situation” offered by “record prices”.

The sunflowerseed price, as measured in Bordeaux, France – having trodden water early this year, to stand at $726 a tonne just before the Ukraine war – rocketed in the aftermath to a record $1,125 a tonne, European Commission data show.

While the price has since fallen back to $1,062 a tonne, it remains 48% higher for 2022, and at a rich premium to rapeseed, which the commission reports at $888 a tonne in Moselle, up 1.4% for this year.

Bordeaux sunflower seed has, on data going back to 2014, averaged a $13-a-tonne discount to Moselle rapeseed, as compared with the current premium of $174 a tonne.

Rapeseed outlook

Strategie Grains edged higher by 50,000 tonnes to 18.20m tonnes its forecast for this year’s EU rapeseed harvest, again on an increased area estimate.

The analysis group said that flowering of the crop had been satisfactory, despite the lack of rainfall in much of Europe which has attracted concern particularly in grain markets.

FranceAgriMer on Friday revealed a decline to 69% in the proportion of the French soft wheat crop rated “good” or “excellent” – down by 20 points so far in May, one of the steepest declines on record.

Strategie Grains added that it was expecting a recovery in EU rapeseed stocks over 2022-23, thanks in part to the improved harvest, but also increased availability of Canadian canola exports, after a drought-hit 2021 crop, and curbs on European biodiesel use.

Countries such as the Czech Republic and Latvia have cut mandates for blending biodiesel – which is made largely from rapeseed oil in the EU – into transport diesel, while Germany is expected promote use of biofuel made from secondary products such as used cooking oil.