AUSTRALIAN sunflower farmers are delving into a new market with a variety of sunflower seed suitable for human consumption being developed right here on the Darling Downs.
There are currently no varieties of sunflower grown in Australia that are suitable for humans to eat.
The market for sunflower crops in Australia is restricted to bird seed and horse feed after prices for sunflower oil plummeted.
Kevin Charlesworth, Chairman of the Australian Sunflower Association, said an Australian breeder is in the process of developing some seed which will produce a sunflower variety that can be consumed by people.
He is hopeful the new type of seeds will be available to Australian growers by 2019.
"Hopefully we'll have a few demonstration sites by then. Just so the growers can see them, we can have price indications, yield indications, and all those sorts of things," said Mr Charlesworth.
These new sunflower crops are likely to be produced in the Darling Downs region or in northwest New South Wales due to the softer ground and suitable temperatures.
"You need a nice big kernel inside so you need the softer growing areas, like the Darling Downs here or maybe the golden triangle in NSW. If you get really hot weather you might end up with a small kernel, which is the last thing you want."
There is a company in Australia that de-hulls sunflower seeds, but at the moment these seeds are 100 per cent imported.
"We are trying to fill that market. But we see a niche market in the likes of Asia for a good quality Australian product. With the prices at the moment they're very profitable."
Mr Charlesworth said there is a collaboration between the breeder and the exporter to develop a closed circuit system.
This will mean a grower who wants to produce this new type of sunflower will have to buy that particular seed and sell to a particular buyer.
This will help with quality control and avoid issues such as mixed seeds.
"We want to get a really good product that is quality assured, so the end user, human beings, know that they're getting what they're paying for."
Mr Charlesworth describes the development as being in it's embryonic stage, but he is optimistic that this will be a profitable new market for the Australian sunflower industry.