While Kansas is nicknamed the Sunflower State, South Dakota keeps making the case for itself, having nabbed the top sunflower-producing spot in three of the last four years.
For the second-straight year — and third since 2011 — South Dakota has produced more pounds of sunflowers than any other state, according to recently released estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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"The climate that you have in South Dakota, the soil conditions; it's a great area for sunflower," said John Sandbakken, the executive director of the National Sunflower Association. "It works very well in people's crop rotations and it's been a very profitable crop over the years for the state."
North Dakota traditionally had been the nation's leader in sunflower production, Sandbakken said, but several years of poor weather conditions has caused late planting and lower yields, allowing its southern sibling to take the top spot.
South Dakota produced an estimated 877 million pounds of sunflowers in 2014, according to the USDA. Of those 877 million, 668 million were oil sunflowers and the rest were non-oil varieties.
North Dakota was the next-closest state, producing about 849 million pounds. Kansas, which got its nickname because of the wild sunflowers found throughout the state, put out about 92 million pounds in 2014 — making it 4th in the nation.
Nationwide, production of oil-type sunflower varieties was up 2 percent from 2013; non-oil production was up 43 percent.
Oil sunflowers are used for cooking oil and bird food while the non-oil varieties are used for snack foods. Sandbakken said nationwide, about 75 percent of sunflowers produced are oil sunflowers.
Sandbakken said the high yields of sunflowers over the past years could encourage some producers to open up more acreage for sunflower production.
"I hope the trend of increased sunflower acres in South Dakota as well as in other sunflower-producing states continues," said Lance Hourigan, a sunflower producer in Lemmon and a member of the National Sunflower Association board.
"Sunflowers have proven to be a profitable crop for our state, and we hope this news will encourage even more producers to plant sunflowers this spring," he said in a news release from the association.