New UC ANR cost study for growing hybrid sunflower seeds helps farmers estimate costs

Oct 4, 2018

A new study on the costs and returns of producing hybrid sunflower seed in the Sacramento Valley has been released by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center for farmers who are considering growing hybrid sunflower seeds.

“Although the acreage is relatively small – about 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley – hybrid sunflower seed is an important crop because California growers produce the seed for planting stock, destined to be planted in many areas around the world for oilseed and confectionary snack food markets,” said Sarah Light, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy advisor and co-author of the cost study.

Authors Rachael Long, Mariano Galla and Light received input and reviews from fellow UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and agricultural industry cooperators for the study, which is based on a typical farm in the Sacramento Valley producing field and orchard crops.

“One thing new in our cost study is that it's based on a crop that is irrigated with subsurface drip as opposed to flood,” Long said. 

The study estimates the cost of hybrid sunflower seed production on 200 acres as part of a row crop rotation, using subsurface drip irrigation. The subsurface drip irrigation tape is replaced every seven years. Annually, 15 percent, or 30 acres, of the subsurface drip tape is replaced.

To avoid cross-pollination with other sunflower varieties, hybrid sunflower seed production requires at least a 1.25-mile field isolation or different planting times. In this study, male sunflower seed is planted in three rows on a single 5-foot bed and female seed is planted in two rows on three 5-foot beds. The field ratio is 25 percent male parent lines to 75 percent female parent lines. With two hives per acre, honey bees are used to cross-pollinate between the parent lines. The male lines are destroyed after pollination to prevent seed contamination of the female lines.

The authors used current production practices to identify costs for the sunflower crop, including material inputs and cash and non-cash overhead. The study includes tables that show profits over a range of prices and net yields, monthly cash costs, costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.

The new study, “Sample Costs to Produce Sunflowers for Hybrid Seed in the Sacramento Valley – 2018,” can be downloaded for free from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at

Sample cost of production studies for many other commodities are also available at the website.

For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact the Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or UC Cooperative Extension advisors Rachael Long at, Sarah Light at, or Mariano Galla at

By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach