As the sunflower season comes to a close and people rush to upload their sunflower selfies across various social media platforms, the farmers who grew them can now breathe a sigh of relief. Not only were Canadian sunflower farms able to open up to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sunflower harvest is projected to sell at a five-year high this season.
Manitoba is currently Canada’s largest producer of sunflowers. The 2020 season saw an increase of over 10, 000 planted acres of sunflowers across the province, climbing from 25, 500 acres in 2019 to 36,400.
Confectionary sunflower seeds are grown to a higher standard and are then harvested and processed for human consumption.
“Sunflower seeds are a great option for people looking to add more plant-based protein to their diet,” says Farmwork to Feed Canada’s resident dietician, Sylvia Black. “Like most nuts and seeds, sunflower seeds are rich in unsaturated fats, protein and micronutrients including iron, zinc and vitamin E. Their additional advantage is that they’re also relatively inexpensive. You can add them to salads, mix them with granola or trail mix, or just have a handful as a snack.”
Black oil sunflower seeds are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are used for sunflower oil and are used in livestock and bird feed. Typically sunflower growers plant both types of sunflower, but with the higher value placed on confectionary seeds. Manitoba is projecting the yield to be above the five-year average.
One of the most important factors that has contributed to the increased demand for sunflowers seeds this year is an increase in recreational birders. With so many people across Canada and the United States working from home and homeschooling their children, filling up the bird feeder has become more a regular chore, even in households where it wasn’t before. Thousands of Canadians have taken to birding since March 2020, as it gets people out of the house and into the fresh air while allowing them to maintain a safe social distance. Even watching a birdfeeder through a window has provided those in isolation with a welcome distraction.
Another added bonus for sunflower growers is that harvest and production aren’t the only ways to make money. Smaller sunflowers farms across Canada often open up for a three to four-week period, inviting visitors to enjoy a U-pick experience.
The popularity of sunflower photos on social media provides a great opportunity for small family farms to increase their profit margins, with entrance fees ranging anywhere from $5- $25.
With the allure of a visually stunning and potentially viral social media post, many small farms have elected to seed small sunflower fields purely for the photographers they draw in. This is a far cry from two seasons ago, when a sunflower farm in the Hamilton Ontario region was so overwhelmed with visitors, they decided to “close forever.” Visitors littered, damaged sunflowers and even went as far as parking along the roadside to skip the line and entrance fee. The disregard for common courtesy in pursuit of “the perfect Instagram post” had many sunflower producers reconsidering whether growing sunflowers was worth the hassle.
Some Canadian sunflower farms, such as Davis Feed & Farm Supply, normally a huge attraction for Toronto sunflower-selfie hunters, did not open for the 2020 season. They issued a statement saying that opening during the pandemic could compromise the safety and health of their community and staff.
“[We feel this] would be a disservice to all of the sacrifices we’ve all made to defeat this virus,” it read.
That being said, in British Columbia, organizers just wrapped up the third annual Chilliwack Sunflower Festival which, despite the limitations of the global pandemic, was a huge success. Operating at 25% of its capacity in previous years, all ticket sales were done online, with visitors receiving a specific time slot for their visit. Masks were required and social distancing measures were in place. It seems that the Chilliwack Sunflower Festival managed to find a happy medium between closing for the season and being overrun with visitors. Perhaps this summer, more than ever, people needed a reason to smile.
Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.