Well aligned along the furrow, the young shoots are barely emerging from the ground: two or three two-centimeter leaves which will give bright sunny flowers in August, whose oil-laden nuggets are now exchanged for gold. in world markets.
“I haven’t planted sunflowers for 25 years. With the war in Ukraine, demand, market prices, everything is upside down. We decided to sow 20 hectares of sunflowers at the instead of corn”, says Régis Bonnin, farmer-breeder in Essarts en Bocage, a rural town neighboring La Roche-sur-Yon.
Within the family farm “Le Passage Fleuri” – 330 hectares and 125 dairy cows, “we weighed the pros and cons”. Régis Bonnin, his son Clément, his brother and his sister-in-law studied the market, drew on the memory of their land and made a bet.
– “Long crisis” –
They knew Ukraine was “a big grain producer because when they have a bad year, prices go up.” They discovered that kyiv exported half of the sunflower oil sold in the world.
“At the start of the war, we said to ourselves: it’s going to be complicated for our cows, with the rising prices of meal – plant residues from the pressing of soybeans, rapeseed or sunflower, which constitute a protein supply for the cattle. “, explains Clément, 27, who takes care of the Prim’Holsteins on the farm.
“Then we saw the prices go up so much that we said to ourselves that we were going to grow sunflowers”, he says, banking on a long crisis, “because if the Ukrainians manage to plant and harvest, it will then have to export” and for that “rebuild the infrastructure”.
“We see manufacturers struggling to replace sunflower oil with rapeseed, there is demand,” adds his father.
This is the calculation made this year by many farmers in France, where sunflower areas increase by 8.5% compared to 2021, in particular to the detriment of corn (-6%), according to estimates by the statistical service. of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The Vendée in particular is one of the departments where the trend is the strongest, with surface areas up by more than 2,500 hectares for oilseeds and down by 5 to 12,000 hectares for grain maize, those intended for fodder remaining stable.
– “Undemanding culture” –
This year, everything spoke in favor of the sunflower: “It is a very undemanding crop, which does not need a lot of water or fertilizer, and which restores its quality to the soil, which is an advantage for the next crop”, explains Régis Bonnin.
As drought threatens, he has chosen plots not accessible to irrigation to sow his sunflower: “It will resist better than corn if it is too dry”. It will also require less expense: no fertilizer after the first spreading of manure from the farm and above all “no drying” unlike corn grains, which is “not negligible” when the price of fuel oil has doubled.
The Bonnins are still cautious: “We kept enough corn to be self-sufficient in food for the cows”, who also feed on hay and barley from the farm, in addition to purchased cakes.
They are waiting before committing to their future harvest, despite attractive contracts currently at more than 800 euros per tonne: “On July 15, if our sunflowers are already in flower, we will sell some,” say the Bonnin brothers.
“But you have to be careful. The sunflower flower is like a sponge. If it rains all the time, it makes dough in the harvester. You have to be sure of being able to deliver the committed volume, otherwise we have penalties”, explains Régis.
If the pigeons do not peck its young shoots too much, the year will be good. But he does not know what he will do next year: “We are moving forward with the crises, we are no longer sure of anything”.