Authorities say sunflowerseed exhausts soil more than any other crop.
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture and provincial authorities are trying to convince farmers to cut back on the area planted to sunflowerseed, according to a March 16 report from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In 2016, farmers in Russia planted 7.5 million hectares to sunflowerseed, a figure that is expected to decline to 7.17 million hectares in 2017.

“Sunflowerseed, more than any other crop, exhausts the soil,” the FAS said. “Moreover, if sunflowerseed is sown in consecutive seasons, the risks are very high that the next crop will be damaged by pests that remain in the soil.”

One such pest is the parasite weed sunflower broomrape — Orobanche cumanaache sps., also called “zarazikha.” According to the FAS, zarazikha affects the root of the sunflowerseed plant and kills the plant, and the parasite weed has spread in Russia and may kill up to 100% of the crop in the field.

“Only farmers that can afford investments in high-quality pest-resistant seeds, herbicides and other chemicals, and follow exact agronomic practices are able to successfully plant sunflowerseed season after season and maintain good yields,” the FAS noted. “However, most farmers that sow sunflowerseed cannot afford such expenses. Despite the threat of losing the crop, and recommendations of provincial and federal authorities, most farmers make their planting decisions based on returns. If they can get profit even with low yields, they will continue planting sunflowerseed despite all recommendations.

“So far, a stable demand for sunflowerseed in the domestic market has kept the average returns from selling sunflowerseed higher than returns from selling most other crops. As a result, farmers have planted more area to sunflowerseed than the federal and provincial authorities recommended.”

The FAS said sunflowerseed prices have begun to come down since the beginning of 2017, a trend that may lead farmers to plant other crops. However, demand from crushers remains high due to new capacity and demand from traders has increased due to a lower export duty, the FAS said.

“Sunflowerseed still remains one of the most profitable crops for farmers,” the FAS said. “This factor favors forecast stability for the 2017 sunflowerseed sown area projections, despite recommendations from the Ministry of Agriculture and local authorities. However, at the time of this report, sunflowerseed sowing has not yet started in Russia.”